SALT LAKE CITY — During an emotional ceremony Tuesday, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a hate crime bill that toughens criminal penalties when victims are chosen because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
Several hundred people, including elected officials, religious leaders and community members affected by hate crimes, attended the hourlong event in the Capitol rotunda to celebrate the long-sought legislation.
"We still have work to do. This is not the end. This is just a new beginning," Herbert said as he signed SB103, "a new opportunity for us to go out and share the message that needs to be shared with everybody."
That message, the governor said, is "one of love, compassion, mutual respect, civility, which we sometimes don't see in politics," that will make for "a better future as we turn it over to the young generation."
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, previously tried to advance hate crime legislation, as had several lawmakers before him. Early on in the 2019 Legislature there wasn't enough support among Senate Republicans for a hearing on the bill.
But that changed after Thatcher, R-West Valley City, added a number of new characteristics that could be targeted in a hate crime, including where victims attended college, their marital status or their political expressions.
Stories about recent hate crimes in Utah also had an impact.
Luis Gustavo Lopez, still recovering from being attacked along with his father by a man swinging a metal bar who allegedly said he wanted to kill Mexicans, attended Monday's ceremony.
"It feels a lot better now because at the time, I did feel a little bit frustrated," said Lopez, who has a metal plate in his cheek and visible scars on his face from the November incident at a Salt Lake tire store. "It felt like there should be more done."
Prosecutors, however, said Utah's existing hate crime law was unworkable. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah stepped in earlier this year to charge the man with federal hate crimes.
Lopez, a student at Salt Lake Community College, said the new law means future victims of hate crimes in Utah won't have to endure "what I felt and what I went through."
Seth Brysk, Central Pacific regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, mentioned the Lopez Tires attack along with a list of hate crimes committed around the globe during the bill signing.
He said such crimes of hatred and bigotry send a message of terror "intended to intimidate us and our neighbors, assaulting our shared values even as they assaulted the victims who were murdered or maimed."
Brysk praised Utahns for "demonstrating remarkable leadership, providing inspiration and hope throughout the Beehive State and across our country" by passing hate crime legislation.
The Rt. Rev. Scott B. Hayashi, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, said the hope is that the state's religious communities "will be able to live and worship without being harassed because of what our religious tradition is."
He spoke of a duty "to make sure that my brothers and sisters, whether they be Muslims or Jews or … Latter-day Saints," regardless of their gender identification or sexual orientation, are "free from fear because of who they are."
Thatcher said four years ago he was on the "wrong side" of the issue himself before recognizing the need for prosecuting hate crimes.
"Once you get it, you can't un-get it," he said. "It doesn't matter where you start. It matters where you finish."
Thatcher became emotional talking about how personal the issue became to him "as I learned how to be a better advocate, as I learned how to be a better senator and a better man."
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, also choked up while describing how, at first, he planned to pass off the bill to another House member, but then, "something came to me from a higher power."
Perry, a Utah Highway Patrol lieutenant, said he has family members affected by hate crimes, including a gay cousin "who lived an alternate lifestyle and was beaten because of it. This represents him. This is to protect him."
Three Democratic lawmakers also spoke at the bill signing ceremony — Rep. Patrice Arent from Millcreek, and Rep. Sandra Hollins and Sen. Derek Kitchen, both from Salt Lake City.
Arent, the only Jewish member of the Legislature, and Hollins, the first black woman in the Legislature, both called the bill a way for Utah to hold accountable those who commit crimes in the name of hate.
Kitchen, Utah's only openly gay state legislator, said "people are feeling under threat, especially members of minority groups," and recalled the February attack of a gay man and his companions captured on a cellphone video.
"The thing with hate crimes is there are two victims, the person that is harmed and the community that they represent," Kitchen said. "It's the community at large that we're also trying to protect."33 comments on this story
The ceremony included songs by the One Voice Children's Choir, including "Let There Be Peace on Earth," as well as an impromptu rendition by some of the attendees of the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."
Steve Urquhart, a former state senator who unsuccessfully carried hate crime legislation, couldn't stop smiling as he stood among supporters of the bill for a picture of the bill signing.
"This is fantastic," Urquhart said. "I was shocked by how excited I was when it passed. I didn't even sleep that night, I was just so excited. It's fun to be here and be part of this. This is a big day."