Utah has strengthened its hate crime law, with Republican Governor Gary Herbert signing a bill into law that includes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I think with the passage of Senate Bill 103, we are sending a message that everybody, every person, every individual in our society is worthy of dignity, respect and love,” the governor said at a signing ceremony on Tuesday.
The state’s previous hate crime law had been criticized as weak, having never resulted in a successful conviction. Attempts to pass new legislation had failed year after year.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, the bill’s sponsor, told Fox 13 about persuading his colleagues, saying, “Once you get it, you can’t un-get it. That’s what it took.”
“Moving forward, I think this is just going to be a real blessing to the people of the state of Utah,” he added.
The law now includes the following protected categories: age; ancestry; disability; ethnicity; familial status; gender identity; homelessness; marital status; matriculation; national origin; race; religion; sex; sexual orientation; service in the U.S. Armed Forces; status as an emergency responder, law enforcement officer, correctional officer, special function officer, or any other peace officer; political expression.
“It is good to know that there is something now to back up people in case of another situation like mine,” said Luis Gustavo Lopez, who was the victim of a racially-motivated attack last fall, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. “It’s good to know there’s something now that protects people.”
“What happened to your family, it helped make it easier to put a face [to this issue], so we’re not just talking about a law, we’re talking about people—real people who needed help,” Thatcher told Lopez after the ceremony. “And I’m so sorry for what happened to you, and I’m so glad we got something positive out of it.”
“If you prosecute harder, you’re telling the individuals this is not going to be stood for,” said Sue Robbins of Transgender Education Advocates, while also noting that Utah still had work to do to bring true equality to minority groups within the state.