Protesters demand LGBT anti-discrimination bill be heard
"Using concerns of animus in the defense of Amendment 3 is a convenient excuse not to hear this bill," the protesters wrote in a letter to Niederhauser and Gov. Gary Herbert. "Further, we contend that not hearing SB100 is itself an act of animus against the LGBT community."
Niederhauser told reporters the Senate hasn’t changed its position on hearing the anti-discrimination bill.
"I think it highlights that we have this freedom, and we respect it completely as a Senate. That’s the way we make policy here. We hear from the constituents, and so I support their right to freedom of speech,” Niederhauser said.
He said the bill could be pulled out of the Rules Committee if it gets enough votes, but that the Senate still wants to wait for the same-sex marriage case to make its way through the courts.
"It’s an environment that we just don’t understand or won’t know until that happens," Niederhauser said, "and it’s best, we feel so far, that those be delayed until we understand that environment a lot better.”
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said lawmakers "don’t know what the court is going to rule, so anything we do is going to be subject to that federal court action, and it’s pretty hard to legislate when you don’t know the outcome of what you're legislating to.”
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, the sponsor of SB100, left the Senate floor to talk with the group, offering to bring up the issue in the GOP Senate caucus meeting Tuesday and to set up a town hall meeting next week.
Later, Urquhart said Niederhauser had offered to meet with a handful of the protesters in his office. The protesters asked that the meeting be held in the open and suggested Niederhauser come to them.
None of the offers were accepted.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, told reporters that "at this point, the Legislature, the Senate and the House have made our position on that subject, as well as all the religious liberty legislation, very clear."
The speaker said any protests or people gathering at the Capitol is "fantastic."
"This is why we have a Capitol. This is why we have a big lawn. This is why we have open space in the rotunda so that people can come here. This is the people’s house. We encourage people to come here and have their voices heard," Lockhart said.
The demonstrators, who numbered as many as 17, had said they wouldn't budge Monday without a commitment to hear the bill.
"We're not going to leave, and we're not going to be quiet," said Donna Weinholtz, of Salt Lake City. "This is a tactic to make us go away."
Williams said the group includes gay and straight people, Mormons and non-Mormons.
Demonstrators wore signs reading: "End the animus — SB100" and "We are the 72 percent."
The latter refers to a Deseret News/KSL poll last month that showed 72 percent of Utahns favor a statewide nondiscrimination law.
At one point, the group blocked a man who apparently had an appointment at the governor's office from going through the door. They told him what they were doing and that the door was locked, but he didn't believe them and pushed Williams.
"So you want to make a fool out of yourself," said the man who refused to give his name. "Is this America at it's best?" he asked before walking away.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly gay Utah legislator, said protesting for one's values is a long-held American tradition.
“In America and in Utah, society does best when issues are openly debated and discussed, not shoved under the rug. I understand the frustration of the protesters and of so many Utahns," Dabakis said.
Weinholtz, who called herself “a straight, married ally of the LGBT community,” said she was willing to be arrested because “we’re talking about civil rights, and civil rights belong to all of us.”
She added: “Unless everyone has full equality in this country, no one can truly claim they have full equality and freedom.”
Weinholtz said she has never been arrested in her life.
“But I’m willing today for it to be the first time,” she said.
Gail Turpin, of Cottonwood Heights, who also called herself a “straight ally,” said it was important to her to be a strong supporter of civil rights for the LGBT community just as she has been in the past for African-Americans and women's rights.
“This is the same thing,” Turpin said.
Jennifer Morrison said she was at the protest as a member of the LDS Church, “because one of the principles of my gospel is to help others and support those who need support. People need to be protected, not just some people.”
Contributing: Madeleine Brown
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