What's Happening in Utah on LGBT Issues is Pretty Encouraging

March 13th 2015

Alicia Lutes

You know that bill we told you about in Utah? The one that saw the Mormon church rally their members to stop certain anti-discrimination practices directed towards the LGBT community in the state? Well it's passed now, and the governor is expected to sign it tonight.

It's a curious bit of business for those who know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' (a.k.a. the Mormons) stance on same-sex marriage. (Which is to say: they're not fans.) After all, they were key players in 2008 during California's Proposition 8 battle, funneling thousands of dollars towards the campaign against same-sex marriage.

"The apostles of this faith, which is the predominant faith here in Utah, stepped forward and expressed an earnest and sincere desire to come together," explained speaker of the Utah House and Republican Rep. Gregory Hughes according to The New York Times. "We had not heard that before, and we had not heard that with such specificity, and we took notice."

The bill, which bans employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, passed 65-10 in the House, following a Senate approval last week. One of the reasons it passed so overwhelmingly in such a conservative state, was because of the exemptions it affords religious organizations and their affiliates (like colleges, charities, and the Boy Scouts of America). It also protects employees from being fired for discussing their religious beliefs at work, so long as it's not harassing or disruptive. But it also comes on the heels of another bill passing — S.B. 297 — which allows county clerks employees the right to refuse the performing of same-sex marriages in addition to prohibiting the government for penalizing individuals and businesses that do not wish to provide their services to same-sex weddings.

"On principle, we don't love the idea of clerks opting out, but we do recognize the extent that Sen. Adams has made at expanding opportunities for LGBT couples to access marriage services throughout the state.… Equality Utah supports religious freedom, and we recognize the value of clarifying these principles in our state's laws," explained Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The fractured nature of the policies' passing at the same time is indicative of the continuing struggle to find balance between religious and human rights in a country that continues to diversify its understanding of acceptance and equality under the eyes of the law. Surely, this won't be the last we hear of this case.