Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that discriminating against gay people shouldn't be illegal, although he would prefer that everyone be treated with respect.
In his most definitive comments yet on gay rights, Herbert told reporters he doesn't believe sexual orientation should be a protected class in the way that race, gender and religion are.
"We don't have to have a rule for everybody to do the right thing. We ought to just do the right thing because it's the right thing to do and we don't have to have a law that punishes us if we don't," Herbert said in his first monthly news conference.
In Utah, it is legal to fire someone for being gay or transgender.
The gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah has been trying to change state law for several years but has been rebuffed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Last year, the group got then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s support for extending some rights to gay people, although none of the bills became law.
Huntsman resigned this month to become U.S. ambassador to China, leaving Herbert, who was lieutenant governor, in charge until a special election in 2010. Both are Republican.
Twenty-one states have laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and 12 extend those laws to gender identity: California, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Several other states protect public employees who are gay or transgender.
Salt Lake City is considering an anti-discrimination ordinance, but conservative state lawmakers are eyeing passage of a law that would trump it.