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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

ACLU of Utah: Working for LGBTQ Equality in Utah

The ACLU of Utah maintains that the U.S. Constitution requires that our laws apply equally, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity; that we have a right to privacy in our personal relationships; and that we have the First Amendment right to communicate gay-positive viewpoints, to choose how we express our gender identity, and to associate with whomever we wish. Unfortunately, courts have not yet fully acknowledged these rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people.

 

ISSUES WE CARE ABOUT

Marriage and Relationships

The ACLU of Utah works for the full legal recognition of LGBTQ relationships. We fought against Utah’s 1995 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the recognition of marriages for same-sex couples formalized in other states. We also fought against Utah’s 2004 Marriage Recognition Policy and state constitutional amendment, both of which prohibited the government from granting legal status to same-sex relationships. We worked for marriage equality by supporting and collaborating with community partners to succesfully challenge Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. The national ACLU worked as co-counsel for the historic 2015 Supreme Court case that validated same-sex couples' right to marry nationwide. We will continue to support efforts to secure additional advances toward equality.

Parenting 

Protecting the rights of LGBTQ parents and their children is central to achieving equality. Bans on adoptions by same-sex couples are grounded in an irrational fear and prejudice, and they harm children’s best interests by unnecessarily and arbitrarily eliminating good adoptive homes. In 2015, we successfully argued on behalf of Angie and Kami Roe to both be recognized as parents of their daughter, Lucy. We continue to fight against other laws that effectively exclude LGBTQ parents from important legal protections for their families, and work to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are not used in custody and visitation determinations. 

Gay-Positive Expression

The First Amendment provides for freedom of speech and expression, and it’s a powerful and necessary tool in the fight for LGBTQ equality. We represented Elizabeth Solomon and her right to display gay-positive license plates in support of her children, and Wendy Weaver, a lesbian teacher disciplined for honestly answering a student's question about her sexual orientation. We will continue to defend Utahns who are punished for communicating gay-positive messages. 

Issues Facing Students

The ACLU of Utah supports the right of LGBTQ students to learn in a safe school environment where they are free from harassment. Students also have the rights to free expression and association, and the ACLU of Utah has successfully represented students who wish to exercise these rights by forming Gay/Straight Alliances, attending prom with a same-sex date, or wearing T-shirts displaying gay-positive messages. 

Gender Expression and Identity

The ACLU of Utah fights for the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people in employment, schools, and public accommodations. We worked to secure the passage of a bill that included sexual orientation and gender identity in Utah's existing nondiscrimination law, and fought to defeat a bill that would have permitted discrimination based on religious beliefs. While having won protections for the LGBTQ community in housing and employment, we will continue to strive for greater equality and work to defeat any laws that seek to discriminate against individuals on the basis of gender expression and identity. 

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Protecting basic civil rights is at the heart of our work for LGBT equality. The ACLU of Utah advocates for local non-discrimination employment, housing, and public accommodations laws as well as the abolition of biased laws and regulations, such as Utah’s sodomy law. 

 

IMPORTANT LEGAL CASES AND STATUTES

Local:

Weaver v. Nebo School District 
In 1998, a federal district court ruled in an ACLU of Utah case that the Nebo School District violated a high school teacher’s rights to free speech and equal protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution when it prevented her from telling anyone that she is a lesbian and fired her as coach of the girls’ volleyball team. The ruling means that teachers have the right to honestly answer questions about their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal.

Norman v. Anderson  
In 2006, the ACLU of Utah, along with community partners, filed an amicus brief in support of Salt Lake City's executive order to  to extend health and other employment benefits to city employees' same-sex and heterosexual domestic partners. 

Etsitty v. Utah Transit Authority 
In 2002, Krystal Etsitty was fired from the Utah Transit Authority where she had worked as a bus driver for several months. The termination came shortly after she revealed to her employers that she is transsexual, and although her employers had received no complaints about her, they informed her that she was being fired because they could not determine which restroom she should use. Etsitty, who identifies and lives as a woman, has legally changed her name from Michael to Krystal and has changed her Utah driver’s license designation from male to female. UTA told her she would be eligible for rehire only after undergoing sex reassignment surgery. The ACLU of Utah filed an amicus brief in support of Etsitty, but the Tenth Circuit determined that transsexuals are not a protected class. This decision calls to attention the need for national anti-discrimination legislation. 

Weber v. Davis School District   
In 2013, the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit against the Davis School District after elementary schools in the district were instructed to remove a children’s book about a family with same-sex parents from library shelves. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a mother whose children attend one of the schools where the book was restricted. On January 11, 2013, Davis School District sent a letter to it's librarians instructing them to return "In Our Mothers House" to the library shelves and not restrict access to the book unless specifically instructed by a child's parents. On January 31, 2013, the District agreed to to never again remove the book based solely on its content settling the lawsuit.

Kitchen v. Herbert 
In 2013, The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Utah submitted a “friend of the court” brief in support of a case challenging Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, Kitchen v. Herbert. On December 20, 2013, a federal court declared that Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. On June 25, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision. On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the case, which means the federal court's decision stands. 

Roe v. Patton 
In 2015, the ACLU of Utah and the national ACLU LGBT Project filed a lawsuit to force the State Office of Vital Records and Statistics to recognize a married same-sex couple as legal parents of their child. On Wednesday, July 15, 2015, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled that the State Office of Vital Records and Statistics must recognize a same-sex married couple as legal parents of their child. 

National:

Equal Access Act
In 1984, Congress passed the federal Equal Access Act, which requires that if a public school allows students to form non-curricular clubs, then it must allow students to form a Gay/Straight Alliance and it must treat the GSA the same as it does all other non-curricular clubs.

Flores v. Morgan Hill Unified School District
In 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that school administrators must take steps to eliminate harassment when they learn that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students are abused at school. Fricke v. Lynch
In 1980, a federal court in Rhode Island ruled that any school policy that specifically excludes same-sex couples from participating in a high school dance or from enjoying the same benefits as co-ed couples violates the rights to free expression and association.  

Lawrence v. Texas
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas sodomy law that made some kinds of sexual intimacy a crime, but only for lesbians and gay men. The Court held that the Texas law violated the fundamental right to privacy protected by the U.S. Constitution. The decision means that similar laws against sexual intimacy are invalid. 

Romer v. Evans
In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that prohibited the passage of any laws banning discrimination against lesbians and gay men. For the first time, the Court recognized that lesbians and gay men are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which entitles all persons to equal protection under the law.

  

WHO WE ARE

Founded in 1958, the ACLU of Utah is the Utah affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, a nationwide, nonpartisan, membership organization dedicated to defending and preserving the constitutional rights guaranteed to all people in this country. We accomplish our work through legal advocacy, litigation, public education, and lobbying at the state and local levels. Like the national ACLU, the ACLU of Utah’s work is based on those principles outlined in the Bill of Rights, and our priorities include: freedom of speech, expression, and association; freedom of religion, including the separation of church and state; the right to privacy; safe prison and jail conditions; and equal protection and due process of our laws. As a private organization, the ACLU of Utah receives no government funding and never charges its clients for legal representation. Our existence depends entirely on private donations, foundation grants, court-awarded legal fees from successful cases, and membership dues from Utahns committed to preserving fundamental civil liberties. 

HOW TO REQUEST HELP FROM THE ACLU OF UTAH

To file a complaint with the ACLU of Utah, call (801) 521-9862 ext 104 to request an intake form or fill out our online form here.

Updated July 2016