SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s legal fight over same-sex marriage has nothing to do with a proposed statewide anti-discrimination ban, a state senator said Friday.
The proposal to bar discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation in housing and employment deals with a significant and longstanding issue, Sen. Steve Urquhart said.
“It’s sending the message that we don’t discriminate against our fellow Utahans,” he told reporters Friday afternoon.
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The St. George Republican held a news conference after legislative leaders said earlier this week they wanted to hold off on bills that may be impacted by the state’s gay marriage fight.
Utah has been at the center of the gay marriage debate since the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was overturned in December by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby.
More than 1,000 gay couples rushed to wed before the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state’s request to halt the weddings in January.
Utah has appealed the federal judge’s decision to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will issue a decision later this year.
“I want to point out, that this issue, it was relevant before Shelby’s decision,” Urquhart said. “It will continue to be relevant no matter how the issue of same-sex marriage is resolved.”
This is the sixth time Urquhart’s bill has been before the Legislature but only the second year year’s sponsored it.
Before last year, other versions were pushed by Democrats.
With a Republican behind the bill last year, it went further than it ever had before, winning approval of a Senate committee.
It died soon after in the Legislative process, but Urquhart has vowed to run the bill every year until it passes.
On Friday, Urquhart urged anyone supporting the bill to “come to the Capitol and let people know that this issue should be heard.”
He then took a paper form used for members of the pu blic to request meetings with lawmakers and wrote a message on the back urging his bill to be heard.
He taped it to the main doors of the Senate, and urged any supporters to do the same during the legislative session.
Eight other supporters in attendance posted similar messages on the door soon after.
Senate Chief of Staff Ric Cantrell said the messages will be allowed, but the door will be cleared off every few days and the messages saved.
Earlier this week, Republican leaders in the Senate said they don’t want to risk affecting the state’s pending appeal to a federal court, while Salt Lake City Sen. Gene Davis, the Senate Minority leader, said he hoped lawmakers would stay away from divisive legislation before the court makes a ruling.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, a Provo Republican, said it makes sense for lawmakers to wait for the legal process to play out before wading further into the issue. But she also said she would not block such bill s from clearing her chamber.
Urquhart maintains his bill is different from the other proposals that appear to be reacting to the gay marriage ruling.
One such proposal would stipulate that religious officials do not have to perform marriages that violate their beliefs. Another would allow people to donate money to the state’s gay marriage fight when filing their income taxes.
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