A coalition of pro-traditional family organizations have come together to launch a media campaign against the anti-discrimination bill that is expected to be considered in the upcoming legislative session.
The group is calling itself the First Freedoms Coalition and is made up of well-known conservative organizations such as the Utah Eagle Forum, the Sutherland Institute, United Families International and Citizens of Strong Families. The group contends the pending legislation will create a protected class of Utahns and could force residents of the state to go against their religious beliefs to provide services to the gay residents living in Utah.
"We are starting a statewide campaign to help educate Utahns on the unintended consequences of the legislation," said Laura Bunker, one of the head organizers for the coalition. "They give special rights to some people at the expense of others. As we are seeing in other states that have nondiscrimination laws, they hurt our freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and right to make a living. So in the end, nondiscrimination laws are not fair to everyone after all."
The proposed legislation is expected to look similar to a bill that was considered last year. The bill sought to provide protection to individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in employment and housing situations. The bill passed out of committee but was never considered beyond that point during the 2013 session.
Similar legislation is expected to be run once again by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, but Bunker and her team hope to curb any momentum for it through television advertisements and town hall meetings held around the state on the issue over the next month.
Bunker hopes to educate Utahns about some of the situations that have taken place across the country because of similar anti-discrimination laws. The group has identified "instances of conflict" in multiple states where an individual had a right violated because they refused to provide a service to someone who was gay.
The situations included items such as the Catholic Charities organization in Massachusetts that withdrew from the adoption business because the state's law required adoption agencies to make no distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation for potential placement families.
Another scenario described by the coalition took place in California. The group said a consultant for Cisco Systems was fired by the company after a manager at the company learned the consultant had once written a book opposing same-sex marriages.
The group also cited the well-known case out of New Mexico where a photographer declined to shoot pictures at a same-sex wedding. The photographer was levied a $7,000 fine by the state's Human Rights Commission for refusing the couple service. She is now taking her case to the Supreme Court arguing that her freedom of speech rights have been violated.
Bill Duncan, with the Marriage Law Foundation, stated these scenario's are exactly what Utah should try to avoid while crafting their anti-discrimination legislation. Duncan said the current proposal is too broadly written as it puts sexual orientation and gender identity in the same class as race in the law. He said he could support a proposal to protect the LGBT community in employment and housing situations but said the current proposal goes too far.
"I don't think the current bill strikes the right balance," he said.
Duncan said he would like to see protection included in such proposals for not only religious organizations but also for individuals' religious beliefs.
"The question is how do we draw the lines to promote civility instead of creating arbitrary lines that we could avoid," said Duncan.
Urquhart has said he is open to suggestions on how to improve the legislation from last year so he can get it passed this year. He said he has not been contacted by First Freedom though for any suggestions on how the bill can be improved. Urquhart said he hopes the bill will pass in the upcoming session which starts at the end of January.