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Salt Lake County to Consider LGBT Housing, Employment Protections

By Arthur Raymond - Deseret News

Friday, December 11, 2009

Salt Lake County to Consider LGBT Housing, Employment Protections

The state's most populous county is poised to follow the capital city next week in passing new protections for gay and transgender residents.

The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday will consider a pair of statutes that offer protections against discrimination based on sexual preference and gender identity in the areas of housing and employment.

While the county has had more general anti-discrimination laws on the books for decades, the new proposals extend them and were adapted from two ordinances unanimously adopted by the Salt Lake City Council last month. On Friday, Salt Lake County Council Chairman Joe Hatch praised the city for passing the new laws and opening doors with the decision.

"I totally salute the efforts of Salt Lake City and the hard work they've done," he said. "It's clearly paved the way for this to be a successful and uncontroversial issue for the county."

Hatch, who leads the majority Democrats on the council, said he expects consensus approval. A proposal before the council earlier this year that posed extending insurance benefits to non-traditional partners passed after running into some pushback from council Republicans, but the anti-discrimination proposal will likely not meet resistance. GOP Councilman David Wilde concurred with Hatch that the changes would get full support.

"These protections have a different nature than the domestic partnership benefits proposal," he said. "With that, I felt uneasy with its implications against traditional marriage, and I voted against it. These laws, though, ensure that people are not discriminated against because of their inclinations, and I plan to vote for it."

Wilde said in speaking to his Republican colleagues, he expected all would support the measures.

That stance jibes with a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll conducted last month that showed 69 percent of Utahns would back state-level anti-discrimination laws to protect gays and lesbians in the realms of housing and unemployment.

In a rare move, a representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared before the Salt Lake City Council on the night of the vote and delivered a statement indicating the church's support.

Michael Westley, spokesman for the advocate group Utah Pride Center, said though a lot was made of the church's stance on the issue, it was the city's work that started what may now become a movement across the state.

"The LDS Church was given a great deal of credit for their encouragement, but Salt Lake City had been working a long time on this," he said. "Now, those efforts can be seen being mirrored by other entities, including the Salt Lake County proposal."

LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the church had no comment on the proposed ordinance.

Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, said last month she was encouraged by the Salt Lake City action and would sponsor an anti-discrimination bill in the upcoming legislative session, reprising previous but unsuccessful attempts to establish state-level protections for gays and lesbians. Park City Mayor Dana Williams told the Deseret News he has raised the idea with his City Council.

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said Friday he was in full support of the county proposal and would like to see the state Legislature offer the same protections.

"I believe that everybody has the right to live and work in their community with discrimination," Corroon said. "As for the state, it's certainly appropriate, if they feel like they'd like to make a similar statement to our local governments."

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