By Aaron Hastings, Capital West News Service
Two LDS Church Apostles and members of Utah’s LGBT community, along with key lawmakers, announced what some are calling a “historic” compromise to balance religious liberty rights with non-discrimination protection for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals.
Elders L. Tom Perry and D. Todd Christofferson, both members of the LDS Church Quorum of the Twelve, and Sister Neill F. Marriott, from the Young Women general presidency, spoke at the March 4 news conference in the Capitol’s ornate Gold Room. Troy Williams, of Equality Utah; Sen. Jim Debakis, D-Salt Lake City; and bill sponsors Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George; Sen. J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton; and Rep. Brad L. Dee, R-Ogden, also addressed the media.
All endorsed SB296 and its protection of rights for all Utahns. The bill will get its first hearing Thursday, March 5, at 8 a.m. in Room 250 of the Capitol Complex’s Senate Building. The bill only has one week to make it through the Legislature, which closes March 12.
“It is better that both sides get most of what is desired than to have a winner-take-all approach where one side loses,” Elder Christofferson said. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pleased today to support SB296, anti-discrimination and religious freedom amendments.”
The bill’s joint Senate sponsors, Urquhart and Adams, both spoke on the importance of the bill as a bridge between the LGBT community and people of faith.
“This issue between religious liberties and anti-discrimination can be, in fact at times, controversial or divisive,” Adams said. “We found a way to bring those issues together, have respect for one another, have respect for all, freedom for all, and actually try to make sure that we respect the rights of some but do not infringe on the rights of others.”
The bill tries to balance the controversial issues regarding rights of employers and employees, regardless of an employee’s religious beliefs or sexual orientation. It would make it unlawful for employers and landlords to discriminate against individuals based on their sexuality or gender identity. Religious concessions include exempting the Boy Scouts of America from being forced to hire gay leaders, preventing employees from being fired for expressing beliefs on marriage, family or sexuality and allowing employers to set dress and grooming standards.
“Faith can move mountains,” Urquhart said. “Today we announce to the people of Utah, the nation and the world, that we commit to move a mountain.”
Speakers regarded SB296 as a historic step. “I think it’s monumental that we’ve been able to do that today,” Adams said. “If Utah can do this, it can be done anywhere else in the nation.”
Debakis, co-founder of Equality Utah, also spoke at the news conference, emphasizing his gratitude at the unity of all parties and the strides taken in holding civil discussions about important and sensitive issues. “This is our message to the world, that we can take tough issues, one of the great social issues of our time, and we can be reasonable, we can be respectful, we can be civil, we can find common ground, and we can make Utah an even greater state,” he said.
Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said the bill reflects unity within the community. “The legislation that we pass this session will provide hope for thousands of LGBT youth living in Utah,” he said. “We will send a message to them that you belong in Utah. This is your home.”