Utah LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill Includes Religious Exemptions
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Utah's Republican governor signed an antidiscrimination bill into law today that protects lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. The bill passed by huge margins in both houses of the legislature.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It extends state laws that already protect people on the basis of race, sex and disability. It also provides some religious exemptions requested by the Mormon Church. We're joined now by reporter Whittney Evans of member station KUER in Salt Lake City. And Whittney, this has been called the Utah compromise. What kinds of protections does this new bill provide?
WHITTNEY EVANS, BYLINE: Well, this new bill simply adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's already existing antidiscrimination law. It covers, specifically, housing and employment. It makes it illegal for employers to fire someone who is LGBT or for landlords to evict people because they may identify as transgender, for instance.
BLOCK: And the Mormon Church's role here is really interesting. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was involved in crafting this bill. How did the church come to support LGBT rights?
EVANS: It's been a long evolution, for sure. The Church is still officially opposed to certain LGBT rights issues like same-sex marriage, and it's not changed its position theologically on homosexuality. But the Church has had a chance to sort of warm up to the idea of nondiscrimination in civic life. Almost 20 Utah cities and counties have already passed these kinds of measures. The Church actually publicly supported the - Salt Lake City's nondiscrimination ordinance when it was adopted back in 2009. State lawmakers tried for many years to pass this kind of law, but it never got enough support from the majority Republican legislature - that is until earlier this year when the LDS Church held a press conference, which is rare, to announce that it would support a statewide antidiscrimination measure, under the condition that it include some religious exemptions.
BLOCK: Yeah, and what are those exceptions?
EVANS: Well, religious groups and their affiliates can't be made to do things such as perform same-sex marriages, which is now legal in the state of Utah. And just like employees can't be fired for being gay, the bill also states someone can't be fired for evicted for expressing their religious beliefs, like saying they oppose gay marriage, for instance. Also, Boy Scouts of America can't be forced to allow LGBT troop leaders, which the Supreme Court has already upheld.
BLOCK: Well, how are LGBT rights groups responding to this? Do they think the bill goes far enough?
EVANS: I've spoken to many people in the LGBT community, and they're pretty thrilled with the result of all of these negotiations. I asked the executive director of Equality Utah last night if there's anything left wanting, and he said the bill provides pretty robust protections that benefit everyone that was involved in those negotiations. Not only will people have legal recourse when discrimination happens, but he says more importantly the bill tells LGBT Utahns that they belong here.
BLOCK: Whittney, you were covering the debate there in the Utah House as they were debating this LGBT bill. What was the debate like?
EVANS: Well, it was interesting. There was one freshman Democrat who stood to say that she was embarrassed that Utah was even having this discussion in the year 2015. She obviously supported these antidiscrimination protections for the LGBT community. Other lawmakers - specifically, Republican lawmakers - said they were holding their nose in voting to support this bill, but they voted yes because of all of the compromise and work that had gone into these negotiations.
BLOCK: OK. That's Whittney Evans of member station KUER in Salt Lake City. Whittney, thanks very much.
EVANS: Thank you.
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