County Council considers antidiscrimination laws
On the heels of Park City considering similar laws, the Summit County Council is poised to approve an ordinance that would protect gays from discrimination by employers and landlords.
Councilpersons are considering writing into law prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"It’s long overdue," Pinebrook resident Bruce Palenske said in a telephone interview.
A dispute two years ago in California, about a ballot measure that outlawed gay marriage, shined light on how bigoted some Utahns are toward gays, said Palenske, who is gay.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent millions defeating gay marriage in California, he added.
"It caused me to resign my post in my neighborhood as vice president of the Pinebrook Homeowners Association," Palenske said. "I was volunteering and serving free of charge in trying to promote our neighborhood and everybody around me, the majority, were LDS and putting money to promote Proposition 8."
Utah has laws protecting people from being discriminated against in housing and employment matters based on race, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, age, military status, physical and mental disability.
But the protections do not extend to sexual orientation or gender identity, according to Helen Strachan, a deputy Summit County attorney.
Somebody in the County Courthouse would probably be appointed to administer the program if the ordinance is approved.
"If somebody feels like they have been discriminated against, that person would go to the administrator of this ordinance," Strachan explained.
Summit County Councilwoman Sally Elliott said she supports the antidiscrimination ordinance.
"We always think that it’s better to take small steps," Elliott said.
The ordinance would create two new protected classes in Summit County: sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Strachan.
The ordinance defines an "employer" as somebody with a staff of 15 or more people.
Those who violate the antidiscrimination laws could face a class B misdemeanor, which is a criminal penalty punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
Officials expect the budget impact of enacting the antidiscrimination ordinance to be minimal.
"It is assumed that the administrator designated to investigate and handle complaints will be someone already employed by Summit County," Strachan states in her report to the County Council.
The Summit County Council last week discussed the proposed ordinance at a meeting in Kamas. There will be a hearing for the public to speak out about the proposal before councilpersons vote on the matter.
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