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Sutherland Institute admits errors in ad opposing nondiscrimination bill

Published: Thursday, Jan. 30 2014 6:55 p.m. MST

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Sutherland Institute admitted Thursday that one of its ads opposing a proposed statewide nondiscrimination law is inaccurate and pulled it from television and the Internet.

The 30-second spot makes a not-so-subtle reference to BYU's arrangement with apartment owners for off-campus student housing, though it does not name the school.

"Imagine you are a landlord renting to private university students in accordance with that university’s honor code, and a young man decides he wants to live in women’s housing. Those special rights would trump your rights as a landlord and ultimately the honor code. How fair is that?" the ad says.

Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero said he saw a Twitter comment on Wednesday night saying Sen. Steve Urquhart's nondiscrimination bill would not allow that to happen.

Mero said he initially "confidently" contested the assertion but discovered in reading SB100 that he was wrong. He apologized in a lengthy blog post on the Sutherland website.

"As soon as I found out about it, it was instant apology and instant action. I don't think anybody can question our integrity here. Our bread and butter is honesty and candor and transparency," he said.

Mero said the ad was pulled from YouTube and from FairToAll.org, a website dedicated to defeating the bill. Pulling the ads from TV is more complicated, but it is being done, he said. Sutherland's other two ads targeting the measure continue to run.

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said she appreciates Mero pulling the ads. The group advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

"I think it's laudable that he apologized for misrepresenting the facts," she said.

It's unfortunate the ads have been running for more than a month, Balken said.

"That misinformation has been spread quite widely," she said.

Balken said she knows Mero does his research but should have known from reading the bill that it wouldn't affect student housing the way it was depicted in the ad.

Urquhart's bill would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing.

College dormitories, religious organizations or businesses owned by religious organizations would be exempt from the law. It would not prevent an employer from requiring workers to dress and groom or use restrooms, shower facilities, or dressing rooms that are consistent with the employee's gender identity.

The St. George Republican had earlier accused the Sutherland Institute of spreading myths about his bill.

A Deseret News/KSL poll this month found that more than two-thirds of Utahns favor a statewide nondiscrimination law.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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