Faculty and students gathered at a forum on Thursday, Jan. 30 to bring awareness to the Fairness for All act in the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service.
The purpose of the act is: “To prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; and to protect the free exercise of religion,” as stated in the first line of the bill.
Celeste Maloy, Southern Utah University graduate and counsel representative for Congressman Chris Stewart, and Tyler Deaton, the senior advisor for the American Unity Fund, were the two guest representatives discussing the bill.
Before opening to questions, Deaton and Maloy introduced the Fairness for All Act and how it has gained traction.
They explained that a key part to this process was the partnership between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the state-wide LGBTQ group Equality Utah. This led to the passing of the Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments bill in 2015 that the two organizations helped draft legislation for.
The Fairness for All act is an attempt to extend the effect of this Utah bill to the federal level, as well as cover issues left unaddressed in the initial legislation.
The representatives received both criticism and thanks on behalf of the bill that has been over six years in the making. Both mentioned that because of the nature of the bill they were prepared for a controversial discussion.
They responded to the opinions and well-informed questions of the audience. One question posed objections with some aspects of the bill.
“There’s things in the bill that I don’t like,” Deaton responded, “but I can tell you why they’re willing to take those deals in exchange for nationwide civil rights.”
Maloy added, “This has not been a comfortable political position to stake out but we’re doing it because it’s worth it, and we’re working hard at it. While sitting here is a very different conversation, the fact that we’re even having this conversation right now in Cedar City, Utah is a major step away from the past 20 years.”
As a major point of discussion, it was explained that small business owners with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the bill, but larger businesses cannot refuse service or employment based on religious belief or sexual orientation – a major controversial topic left mostly unaddressed in the 2015 bill.
“One thing this bill does is give people a place to go to be for something and to actually have a policy instead of just waiting for the law dam to break and just hoping that things go their way,” Maloy explained.
If this bill passes, it will be the biggest expansion of civil rights since the Civil Rights Act, as well as the biggest expansion of religious freedoms caused by federal law.
“For too long we’ve talked about LGBTQ rights and religious freedom as if they are diametrically opposed, it’s time to change the way we talk about that,” said Maloy. “If we really believe in freedom, we can all be free, and we should be fighting for each other’s rights.”
The Leavitt center holds weekly events and is located in the Sharwan Smith Student Center room 112. Visit their website to stay up to date with their events and speakers.
Story by Larissa Beatty
Photos Courtesy of Larissa Beatty