This past week Gov. Gary Herbert met with gay rights groups Equality Utah and Foundation for Reconciliation. The meeting came at the organizations’ request after Herbert stated that homosexuals should not receive the same legal protection as people get based on race, religion, or gender.
Right now in the state of Utah, you can be kicked out of your house or fired from your job simply for being gay or transgender. Is this still a debate? California went through this over 30 years ago. Herbert, the current governor of Utah, agrees that this kind of discrimination is wrong but is against any law that would protect this group of people. His reasoning is as follows: “Where do you stop? That’s the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we’re going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes. … We ought to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” Isn’t that the point of law, to redress wrongs and ensure justice? And I wasn’t aware that blue-eyed blondes are regular victims of hate crimes.
One of the conclusions from the meeting was that there needs to be more state numbers dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Herbert agreed that there is a lack of state statistics, but would not commit to creating a task force to gather the information. The human rights groups probably want him to commit to a task force because they know what he will find.
Nationwide numbers are pretty clear on the subject. The FBI reported that, of the 7,621 hate crimes (the number is undoubtedly much higher since there are always hate crimes not reported) committed in 2007, anti-gay crimes accounted for 17% of the reported crimes. The FBI also reported that there were more hate crimes reported in Utah in 2007 than there were in 2006. UCLA’s law school reported that the complaint rate for employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is about 5 people per 10,000 workers, a rate similar to those based on sex and race. We already know hate crimes and discrimination based on sexual orientation happen at an unacceptable rate.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said the city is committed to passing an ordinance to protect gay people from being fired or evicted just for being gay, but there are already state legislators saying they will write a bill to counter the city’s actions. These are the same ideologically conservative legislators that support local government rights. Apparently Utah state legislators are determined to deny gays any protection, despite any contradictions of their own principles. Even the Supreme Court unanimously found in Wisconsin v. Mitchell that bias crime laws are constitutional, so there is no credible argument about any supposed unconstitutionality of protecting gays.
Utah legislators on the other side of the aisle are working to compromise with Herbert to “investigate and research whether there is discrimination against LGBT people in the state,” in order to reach the worthy goal of passing legislation. The question is, what happens when they inevitably discover that there is a high rate of discrimination against the LGBT community in Utah? That seems like a good reason to put the issue off for now, but once the bi-partisan task force comes back with some numbers, conservative legislators will have to come up with another reason not to protect the rights of all Utah’s citizens.
In a poll of 600 people by the Information Alliance (conducted in January with a random sample of 600 residents across Utah and only a four percent margin of error), 62 percent of Utahns support a fair workplace for those who are gay or transgender, and 56 percent of Utahans either support or somewhat support changing Utah’s current housing law to make it illegal to deny someone housing solely because they are gay or transgender. It looks like Utah legislators are at odds with their constituents.
When Herbert makes his slippery slope argument, he asks “Where do you stop?” I have an answer: You stop when those committing hate crimes against the gay community are held accountable and the law provides equal rights for everybody, including gay people.
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.
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