Metro Weekly

Utah’s hate crimes bill adds “political expression” to list of protected characteristics

The bill now heads to Gov. Gary Herbert, who is expected to sign it into law

Utah State Capitol – Photo: LoneStarMike, via Wikimedia.

After years of blocking a bill to add hate crime protections for LGBTQ people, Utah’s Republican-run Senate overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive “victim targeting” law that includes “political expression” as a protected characteristic.

The Senate approved the bill after concurring with a House amendment that added protections for political expression, with proponents of the amendment citing examples of right-wing conservatives or Donald Trump supporters have been attacked.

The amendment was seen by LGBTQ advocates as a necessary evil of sorts to ensure that protections for sexual orientation and gender identity would be passed into law, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Attempts to add those traits to the list of protected characteristics failed in previous legislative sessions, due in part to perceived opposition from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposed a hate crimes bill in 2016 and stayed neutral in subsequent years. 

One of those pushing for the addition of “political expression” to the bill’s list of protected characteristics was Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, who claims she’s received death threats since pushing for an amendment that radically altered the content of a bill to ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors. The changes to the bill were so stark that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Craig Hall (R-West Valley), said he could not move forward with it at this time, killing the measure until next year.

In addition to political expression, sexual orientation, and gender identity, the bill also allows judges to increase penalties for crimes if someone is targeted because of their ancestry, disability, ethnicity, national origin, race, religion, age, familial status, homelessness, marital status, military service, or status as a police officer or emergency responder. As a result of those additions, the amended bill passed the House by a vote of 64-9 and the Senate by a vote of 22-3.

The push for the bill’s passage this session was underscored by several high-profile hate crimes, including the recent beating of a Latino man and his son by a man who said he wanted to kill Mexicans. Despite being arrested, the man was not charged with any hate crime, even though current state law purportedly protects ethnicity and race.

LGBTQ advocates pointed to other incidents underscoring the need to give the hate crimes statute more teeth. Last year, a mob yelling homophobic chants and slurs chased a group of gay people leaving the Utah Pride Festival. In 2015, two gay men were attacked and called homophobic slurs by two men after exchanging a good-night hug in Salt Lake City. Most recently, a video went viral of a man in Salt Lake City asking another man if he was gay and punching him after the victim affirmed that he was.

LGBTQ rights organization Equality Utah posted a statement on its Facebook page praising the bill’s passage as an “outstanding moment for the state of Utah.” The organization also thanked its chief sponsor, Sen. Dan Thatcher (R-West Valley) and Sen. Steve Urquhart, the previous sponsor of the 2016 version of the bill.

“At long last, the Utah Legislature has passed a comprehensive and LGBTQ inclusive hate crimes statute!” the post said. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone who came together to pass this important legislation. We thank our lawmakers for this historic vote.”

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