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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 11
Utah passes landmark anti-discrimination bill - Bill allowing opt-outs from same-sex marriages also passes
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Utah passes landmark anti-discrimination bill - Bill allowing opt-outs from same-sex marriages also passes

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Utah House of Representatives has passed a landmark bill outlawing discrimination against LGBT people in the areas of housing and employment. The March 11 vote on the measure, titled SB296, was 65-10.

The bill passed the Utah Senate by a 23-5 vote on March 6. It will now go to Utah's governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill amends the state's current antidiscrimination and fair housing laws to include 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' in the list of protected characteristics.

Employers are allowed to set 'reasonable' standards of dress and grooming and designate gender-specific restroom and shower facilities, according to the bill.

Also under SB 296, someone who expresses religious, political or personal views about marriage, family, or sexuality in a 'nondisruptive' and 'nonharassing' manner cannot be fired or denied housing on those grounds.

Religious institutions and their affiliates, religious schools, and the Boy Scouts of America are exempt from the law.

When the final vote was announced, observers in the packed galleries burst into applause. The House clerk was so moved, that she was unable to read the next bill on the docket and simply handed it to her assistant as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

The measure is the result of a historic compromise between LGBT activists and the LDS (Mormon) Church, which dominates Utah's economic, political, and social life. Anti-discrimination measures have been presented to the Utah legislature for many years, but none passed until the church gave its blessing.

Republican Rep. Merrill Nelson summed up the position eventually adopted by Mormons with the statement 'Homosexuality is not a civil right but equal access to housing and employment is.'

Anti-Gay talk show host Bryan Fischer condemned the Mormons' compromise on LGBT rights.

'Be advised,' he Tweeted, 'the Mormon church has switched sides in the culture war over homosexual 'rights.'

Fischer is the former Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Foundation.

In the same session that passed SB296, the Utah House also passed SB297, which allows state employees to opt out of performing same-sex marriages. Under the requirements of the bill, if officials want to abstain from marrying same-sex couples, they must recuse themselves from all marriages, same- or opposite-sex. The measure also specifies that someone in each county clerk's office must be available to perform same-sex marriages.

Unlike SB296, SB297 was not a product of negotiations between the Mormon Church and LGBT activists, but was, instead, a work-around bill put together in response to federal court orders striking down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert said in response to the federal court ruling that he would refuse to officiate at a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple, and lawmakers wanted to open that option to all state officials.

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