Utah passes landmark LGBT rights bill backed by Mormon leaders

Utah governor to sign landmark LGBT rights bill

Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature has passed a landmark bill that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace and housing market, while also protecting religious rights.

The measure passed on a 65-10 vote in the House late Wednesday and a 23-5 vote in the state Senate last week. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is set to sign the bill during a special ceremony Thursday evening, according to state Sen. Jim Dabakis.

The bill, which is supported by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is considered by many to be a compromise. Dabakis, an openly gay Democrat, said the bill shows how two “almost warring factions” could “roll up their sleeves with respect and civility” and work together.

“It’s a proud day for Utah, but I think more importantly it’s a good role model for how things really could and should work with each other,” Dabakis told The Times.  “We worked it through, and we walked across the bridge together."

The measure, which took seven years to pass, provides exemption from the bill's requirements for individual church leaders, religious companies and their affiliates. It also lists the Boy Scouts of America as an exempt organization, a move the church said could “lessen the divisiveness in our communities without compromising on key principles.”

“LGBT people cannot be fired or denied housing just for being gay,” the church said in a statement. “At the same time, religious conscience and the right to protect deeply held religious beliefs is protected by robust legislation.”

The Mormon Church's support of the measure was key to its passage. The church still opposes same-sex marriage, and in 2008 urged followers to give their time and money to help pass Proposition 8, the California measure banning gay marriage there. (The measure was later overturned and California now has same-sex marriage.)

But in 2009 church and LGBT leaders began having discussions that ultimately led to the current legislation.

The bill requires employers to adopt "reasonable rules and policies" for gender-specific facilities such as restrooms, shower and dressing areas and to provide accommodations for transgender people. It also allows employers to establish "reasonable dress and grooming standards."

Employees may also express their religious or moral beliefs as long as it is done "in a reasonable, non-disruptive and non-harassing way" and does not interfere with their company's business.

Kent Frogley, president of the board of the Utah Pride Center, called the bill a "huge step forward."

"It’s not perfect, but there are still lots of opportunities to work together and continue to evolve," he said.

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