MICHELLE L. PRICE
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah’s GOP-controlled Senate rejected a proposal to beef up the state’s hate crimes law and add protections for gay and transgender people on Wednesday.
The measure from Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart called for heavier punishments in crimes motivated by factors such as a victim’s race, gender and religion. It failed by six votes in the 29-member Senate. Lawmakers said they were concerned it could create special protections for some people and punish people for their thoughts.
Supporters contend current state law is unenforceable and Urquhart’s bill would have boosted protections for everyone.
Utah is one of more than a dozen states with hate-crime laws that lack protections for sexual orientation and identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
The bill’s fate was in doubt after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement last week urging legislators not to upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights. Mormon church officials declined to elaborate, but its statements have an influence on a legislature where most lawmakers are members of the faith.
Urquhart, a Mormon, said his proposal is balanced and would protect religious groups, including members of the LDS Church. He has also clarified that under his bill, a person’s membership in a specific group or hate speech alone cannot serve as evidence that something was a hate crime. The person’s comments or actions must be specifically related to the crime – such as stating an intent to attack a specific person because of their race, not past statements against members of a race.
A number of community and religious groups endorsed the plan. Utah’s current hate-crimes law doesn’t include specific protected groups, it instead speaks generally about crimes that cause a person to fear they cannot freely exercise their constitutional rights.
Photo Credit: lgbtqnation.com