SALT LAKE CITY — As predicted earlier this week, Salt Lake County followed in the footsteps of its largest city Tuesday in passing, unanimously, two new laws that create protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The pair of statutes was modeled after ordinances adopted by Salt Lake City last month that also passed their council panel without a dissenting vote.
While some county GOP council members took a hard stance against a proposal that extended insurance benefits to same-sex partners earlier this year, the anti-bias measures were roundly supported. Republican Councilman Jeff Allen, who opposed extending benefits to domestic partners of county employees over concerns about eroding what he described as the traditional family model, said these changes addressed a more basic premise.
"We may not approve of their actions, but we need to treat people correctly," Allen said. "And, it's important that government approves of that."
Council Chairman Joe Hatch said late last week that he expected no opposition to the statutes and had only scheduled five minutes to consider the matter at the board's work meeting Tuesday afternoon. The process took even less time than that to garner its 9-0 passage.
A handful of residents did step forward later in the day, when public comment was taken on the proposals, and all of those who testified spoke against the proposals.
On Friday, Michael Westley, spokesman for advocate group Utah Pride Center, said Salt Lake City's adoption of the anti-discrimination rules — and the LDS Church's support of those measures — could prove to be a harbinger of more widespread consideration of the protections.
The idea has been discussed in Park City and has the support of newly re-elected Mayor Dana Williams. State Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, has promised she will run a bill in the upcoming legislative session that will seek to create state-level statutes offering protections against workplace and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — for a third time.
A Deseret News/KSL-TV poll conducted last month showed there is wide support for a statewide statute like the ones passed by the capital city and Salt Lake County. The poll, which has a 5 percent margin of error, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, indicated some 69 percent of Utahns would support state level protections. And, like the bipartisan support reflected by the council votes in Salt Lake City and the county, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats polled voiced support — the Democrats at 84 percent and Republicans at 61 percent.
All statute changes in Salt Lake County must pass two rounds of voting before being ratified. The new anti-discrimination proposal will be up for a final vote in January.