SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Yesterday the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement on Senator Stephen Urquhart’s hate crimes bill. Today, the senator and supporters of the bill responded.
It was a tense scene inside the Utah State Capitol today as supporters and law makers of SB 107 rallied together to express their frustration following what they say is the LDS Church’s opposition to new hate crimes legislation.
“Yesterday all those efforts, all future legislative dialouge, all future legislative process, they were all effectively snuffed out by a press release,” said Senator Stephen Urquhart (R), the bills chief sponsor.
The Church’s statement read:
The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty’s and LGBT rights. Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained.”
Senator Urquhart – who is of the Mormon faith – says the Church miss-characterized his bill.
“When we miss-characterize something we lose the opportunity to learn from it. We lose the opportunity to progress. So miss-characterizations have to be corrected, so the press release that went out yesterday it talked about a need for balance, and it talked about the spirit of the compromise of last years legislation. Which apparently is something only the Mormon Church can interpret,” he said.
Urquhart also said he would no longer refer to last year’s anti-discrimination and religious rights bill as the ‘Utah Compromise.”
“Last years passage of anti-discrimination that afforded protections in housing and employment to all Utahns, including protections on sexual orientation and gender identity – it was historic, I remain very proud of it. I remain grateful that the Mormon Church eventually came to the table, joined the broad coalition that had been working for many years to pass this important legislation – however, I now reject the term ‘Utah Compromise,’ to describe that wonderful legislation. Yesterday, that term – that concept – was perverted into a club to beat back further progress on civil rights,” Urquhart said.
Sen. Urquhart says the perfect balance of that legislation is being used to equate a hate crimes bill to other bills on “other silly hapless efforts to ignore the reality of that decision,” and he says those efforts are not morally equivalent to his piece of legislation which would protect everyone including religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
“My hate crimes legislation does protect religious communities, it protects the LGBT communities, it protects everyone of any race – that’s all of us – of any gender, sexual orientation. It protects all of us equally. It protects them in the exact same way,” says Urquhart.
Senator Urquhart’s bill would define what a hate crime is including specific characteristics and increase the penalties for these crimes. It would also provide protection for victims and defendants for any comments or associations that are not related to the crime.
The bill gained massive support from over 30 diverse groups including racial and ethnic organizations, religious groups, and law enforcement. Victims of hate crimes also supported the bill and expressed their disappointment over the Church’s response.
“To sort of hear that backs are being turned and to hear what could have been a positive outcome not for our case but for the rest of the community, and all the people who come after us, to hear that that’s being undone is really disheartening,” says Rusty Andrade.
Rusty was a victim of a gay hate crime back in 2014. He and a friend were walking home from a gay bar in Salt Lake City when two men attacked them. The men responsible weren’t prosecuted.
According to law enforcement, there have been 1,279 hate crimes in the state of Utah over the last 20 years. Of those crimes 48% were racially motivated. 20% targeted someone’s faith, while only 15% targeted someone’s sexual orientation.
“It really points to the need for this kind of legislation and it points out how broadly based, how many communities it affects. While the LDS Church has come out against this hate crime bill, there’s a broad spectrum of faith leaders, not only among the Christian community, but the Jewish community, the Muslim community, all of our many faith communities who are heralding this and are all for it,” says Rev. Curtis Price with the First Baptist Church of Salt Lake City.
Supporters of this bill say they will continue to fight as the bill will now head to the Senate floor.
“We don’t care how long it takes, we don’t care how long the odds are, we are never going to stop fighting for our rights, for our liberties, and our families,” says Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams.
And District Attorney Sim Gill adds, “To Senator Urquhart: for having the vision and and the courage to offer an element of sanctuary to all citizens. Every citizen in the state of Utah who has been harmed by this kind of crime, that they can look at a measure of justice to have that hope – and to have that hope be denied – that is a shame on all of us as a community. It’s a shame on all of us as public servants. It’s a shame on us as a matter of public policy. We are better than this, our citizens deserve better than this, we have to do better than this.”
During the press conference Sen. Urquhart invited the Mormon Church to speak with him about his bill to clear any fears or concerns. He also personally apologized to all the racial, ethnic, and LGBT Utahns who he says his bill would have protected.