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Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert at a BYU symposium on July 8 said the recently enacted Utah Compromise law should be a model for the nation for balancing LGBT and religious rights.
“Why not Utah?” Herbert asked as he recounted the state’s history of religious freedom battles during his keynote address at the Religious Freedom Annual Review, which was on campus July 6–8.
The governor said since the implementation of the Utah Compromise in May, many other states such as Idaho, Arizona, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina and Iowa have approached him seeking to use the new legislation as a model for their own states.
Leading sponsor of the bill Sen. J. Stuart Adams, R-Davis County, said because same-sex marriage was already legal in Utah as of October 2014, state legislators were not caught off guard by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling two weeks ago.
“Months ago Utah legislators were having the same conversations that the rest of the country is having today,” Adams said.
The Utah Compromise balances anti-discrimination ideals and religious liberties through the passing of two bills. The first, SB296, ensures that no person be denied housing or employment opportunities based on his or her sexual orientation.
The next bill, SB297, focuses on religious freedoms, stating that religious organizations and leaders will not be forced to perform marriages that are not congruent with their faith. The bill also guarantees that every couple — same-sex or traditional — have access to someone who is willing to perform their marriage.
Another speaker at the conference, University of Illinois law professor Robin F. Wilson, was instrumental in the passing of these two bills. According to Wilson, the Utah Compromise delivers more protection to marriage and to religious objectors than does any other state in the country.
“I believe that the nondiscrimination ban should not extend to facilitating marriages because marriage is a sacrament for many people, and it’s been a religious institution long before it was a civil one,” Wilson said.
During the question-and-answer segment allotted following the keynote address, many attendees were still left wondering one thing: “What’s next?”
In response, Herbert said it is impossible to predict what future legislation will arise from this issue. When asked about the potential effects the clash between same-sex marriage and religion will have on the public economy, Herbert answered, “It’s not a matter of not wanting to dive into it; it’s an understanding that it’s pretty complex.”
Most people have heard the common hypothetical scenario: Should a baker who is morally opposed to same-sex marriage be required by law to bake cakes for same-sex weddings?
Herbert said he understands the concerns this baker might have, but “at the same time, you’re opening yourself up to the public square and saying, ‘I’m offering this to the public at large.’”
“It does seem a little untoward to say, ‘I’m going to pick which sinner I’m going to serve.’ There’s something that’s untoward about that, in my view,” Herbert said.
Herbert said he feels that Utahns shouldn’t necessarily require a law to tell them to be good people. He said people should be neighborly and helpful because of their own moral convictions.
The symposium ended with the realization that issues such as these are complex and emotional. Legislators will deal with them as they come, but so far there are no new bills dealing with LGBT and religious public economy issues that will be discussed in the next Utah State Legislative Session.