Two things that I have been waiting awhile for happened at the end of last week. On Thursday Congress finally passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act; the next day the nondiscrimination in employment and housing for the LGBT community (SB262) was introduced in the state Senate. On the one hand, these events don’t really have much in common. One is a federal law that addresses domestic violence, the other is a state issue that deals with economic discrimination. On the other hand, the debates surrounding these issues have something very important in common. They both address the amount of protection that should be given to the LGBT community.
The Violence Against Women Act passed the House last week with a vote of 286 to 138. This ended a process that took months and was hung up on one major addition to the law. The new version gave protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Essentially the law will now protect members of the LGBT community. Giving protection to these individuals caused many legislators to turn against the reauthorization. They did not want to extend protection. In fact, Republicans in the House tried to pass alternative versions that eliminated sexual orientation and gender identity. Fortunately, the efforts to limit the amount of protection failed and the Violence Against Women Act passed. Representative Jim Matheson was the only member of the Utah delegation to vote in favor.
The nondiscrimination bill is also clearly about the amount of protection that should be extended to the LGBT community. It was introduced without the explicit support of the LDS church and as a result it is unlikely to have much success. It has a chance of reaching the floor of the Senate, but there is simply not enough support for the bill in the House. Many of our legislators do not believe that members of the LGBT community deserve protection from eviction and loss of their jobs. They believe people have the right to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Until we change this attitude success will be difficult.
I think that change is coming. People are becoming more accepting of the LGBT community. In fact, the majority of Utahns support employment and housing protections for these individuals. It is the legislature that is behind. They are still debating whether people deserve basic protection. This is something that should not be questioned, but it is getting better. The nondiscrimination bill will most likely not pass this year, but I think that its acceptance will happen soon.