After several twists and turns and more than two hours of debate, the Utah house of representatives approved a bill to increase penalties for hate-motivated crimes. After six years of attempts, the 38-35 vote Thursday night was the first time a hate-crimes bill has been approved in the Utah house. During the vote there was complete silence in the house chamber, and immediately following the decision those in the public gallery burst into applause. "I always believed we could get it done," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. David Litvack. "But am I surprised after all that debate? Absolutely." The bill would levy harsher penalties for people who threaten or commit acts of violence or vandalism against someone because of their bias against the victim's race, color, gender, disability, nationality, ancestry, religion, or
sexual orientation. It will now go to the senate for consideration.
In the last five years conservative lawmakers have consistently voted hate-crimes proposals down, arguing that the measures would give specials rights to minorities, especially gay people. Opponents of the bill argued Thursday that all crimes are hate crimes and that all people are hurt by these crimes.
Proponents of hate-crimes sentencing enhancements were optimistic that a statement from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would help the bill pass. The statement read that the denomination's leaders do not oppose the bill. "The church abhors all hate crimes. The church's well-known opposition to attempts to legalize same-gender marriage should never be interpreted as justification for hatred, intolerance, or abuse of those who profess homosexual tendencies, either individually or as a group," the statement read.