Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, photo, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, speaks on the Senate floor at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill intended to make it clear how transgender people could legally change their gender through the courts failed in the Senate on Friday after a lengthy and sometimes emotional debate.

The sponsor of SB138, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, choked up as he described watching a neighbor family deal with a transgender child. Weiler said he had felt the issue was foreign to him until he realized their vulnerability.

"My decision has been to try to love people," Weiler said, something he believes his religion teaches. He said despite his efforts, people on both sides of the issue were unhappy with his bill.

The bill, which would have allowed judges to change the gender of people over 18 to male, female or other based on their petition to the court, was defeated 10-16 in a preliminary vote.

Weiler said he is not sure whether he'll try again to fix what he said has been a lack of legislative guidance from the Legislature since the 1950s to judges considering petitions seeking to change the gender on a birth certificate.

The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments last month from two Utahns who sought to legally change the gender on their birth certificates to match their gender identity but were refused by judges.

The only openly gay member of the Legislature, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, distributed pictures of a young child bullied for identifying as a girl and wanting to wear princess dresses, and he urged support for dropping the age limit in the bill.

That amendment, made by Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, failed. Dabakis said he could not vote for the bill because members of the transgender community opposed the age limit and a provision labeling new birth certificates as altered.

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Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he doesn't have a problem with people changing their gender, but he questioned at what point that actually happens. He said the issue needs to be studied further.

Sue Robbins, chairwoman of the Utah Pride Center, called the vote a "mixed bag. Because I see a little bit of a win in that we have a lot of support down there for something to happen."

But the loss, she said, is that there is still a lack of understanding among some senators.

"We're confident that when people understand these things, then they will understand what our needs are and then move things in the right direction," Robbins said.