SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The conversation on hate crimes in Utah has come to an end – at least for now – as the Utah legislature voted against Senate Bill 107 with a vote of 17 against, 11 in favor.
“It’s disheartening to see these senators who are voting against protecting Utahns, and it has a lot to do with the LDS Church and a lot to do with their statement. Our goal was good. Our goal was to help people, help Utahns, and we gave it our all and it hurts to see it killed on the Senate floor,” said Senator Stephen Urquhart (R).
Speaking candidly following the vote that killed his hate crimes bill, Sen. Urquhart and supporters which included several law enforcement agencies and multiple ethnic and racial groups, held a strong belief that this piece of legislation would have made it through the Senate. That was until the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement expressing concern that Sen Urquhart says essentially killed his bill.
“The Mormon Church speaks with a very loud voice up here and that killed the dialogue that I needed to pass this, but you know, everyone can tell it’s trying on this issue. I’m not about to deny that the Mormon Church is working hard to come to terms with the LGBT movement and with LGBT Mormons. it’s gonna get there,” says Urquhart.
Senator Urqhart says his bill would have protected every Utahn, as he says it covered everyone who has a sexual orientation, an ethnicity, a race, a gender, a gender identity, and religion. It’s elements consisted of protecting freedom of speech rights for individuals accused of a hate crimes so that associations not related to the crime could not be used against them. Urquhart says his bill would have also increased the penalties for people who commit hate crimes saying it would punish the act and the criminal intent. As he says every crime punishes an act and a thought.
In the case of hate crimes the senator says, “It has two elements, it’s a crime against an individual or property and it’s a crime against a community, that’s the criminal intent, that needs to be punished. And so I hope that we pass it before to many hate crimes occur,” says Urquhart.
But opponents of the bill didn’t see it that way. Many worried the bill was only prosecuting a thought and that this would place Utahns in categories.
“Is there any data showing any deterrent effect of hate crimes legislation? We have about 20 states with no hate crimes laws. Is there any data that these people that there’s less crimes committed because of hate crimes. The answer is ‘no,’ this legislation despite the symbolic impact that it may have of people of protected classes, it does not provide protection.” said Senator Todd Weiler (R). “What it does is it singles out certain classes of people and says if you attach them we’re going to give you a stiffer sentence or penalty if you attack somebody else. So there’s nothing about equality there. Last thing I want to point out is that this is a thought crime.”
Senator Urquhart believes those who voted against the bill simply misunderstood what it was meant to do.
“Some people still think that hate crimes legislation only protects certain races, certain ethnicities, certain religions, certain sexual orientations, but it doesn’t. It protects everyone and you know that might have been my failing to not do a better job for educating each member but I think at this point we have raised awareness,” says Urquhart.
He says that’s the progress of civil rights. He says battles have to be fought and things happen bit by bit and believes this defeat has actually brought hate crimes legislation much closer to becoming a reality in Utah.
While that may be true, supporters and victims of hate crimes couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the decision that was reached today at the Capitol.
“The legislation is sound it’s really thoughtful and it includes every class of people, and to say it’s creating these new classes or putting people in these boxes, no, it creates protections for everyone and so I think what wasn’t said was that they’re showing their allegiance to their church. Which I can accept and understand and even sometimes appreciate, but I think there’s a greater conscience that we’re looking at and I think that’s why we’re so disappointed,” said Taylor Lamont.
“The law was so carefully drafted to balance. There has to be a substantial relationship between the intent and the crime that was committed. So it’s just a false idea that it’s just a 1% notion that we’re punishing thought, we’re punishing criminal activity. By not voting in support of that, this legislature said that we want to protect criminals more than we want to protect our Utah citizens,” says Rusty Andrade.
According to Utah law enforcement there have been 1,279 hate crimes committed in the state over the last 20 years, and under the current statute, not a single one of those crimes have been prosecuted. The number one hate crime in the state targets someone’s race. The second is someone’s religion.
“If you look at the hate crimes in the state, few are gay. They’re racial attacks, they’re religious attacks because people go after LDS people and burn down their churches, specifically because they’re Mormon,” said Sen. Jim Dabakis (D).
So what does the future hold for hate crimes legislation in Utah. Simply put, Sen. Urquhart says it’s going to pass it’s just a matter of when. In response to the church’s presumed opposition to his bill Sen. Urquhart, who is of the LDS faith, says he is proud of the church.
“The Church did approach me and we had a wonderful conversation. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the effort they’re making on LGBT issues. I think it’s undeniable that they’re working on the issue. They care about it, they care about LGBT individuals, they’re not quite there yet on this one, but they’ll get there,” he says.
Supporters of the bill say they are going to continue to fight.
“Hopefully, we can do other work on the ground to help protect them and educate them so other people wont have to suffer the way that we did,” says Andrade.
And they plan to reintroduce the bill again in the next legislative session.