While there was a lot of smiles by gay rights supporters in Capitol Hill hallways Tuesday afternoon – after LDS Church leaders came out in favor of anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians in housing and employment – it remains to be seen how a pro-religious liberty law is drafted, ultimately tying the two issues together.
And political and public policy junkies will get a rare treat in the coming days, as UtahPolicy compares polling on the anti-discrimination issue before and after the church leaders’ statements.
Sponsors of a pre-legislative conference held two weeks ago – the Exoro Group and Zions Bank – paid for a wide-ranging poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. The questions were written by Utah State University political science professors.
The demographics of that survey were given to UtahPolicy to publish.
And the new survey shows that 55 percent of registered Utah voters favor a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, which would provide anti-discrimination protection to gays and lesbians in housing and employment.
Twenty percent of Utahns said they were “neutral” on the subject – neither favoring it nor opposing it. And 1 percent didn’t know.
The survey was of 715 registered voters statewide, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.66 percent.
The poll was conducted between Dec. 22 and Jan. 10, well before leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called a surprise press conference Tuesday morning to detail their opinions on the Urquhart bill (they did not name the bill specifically) and religious liberties and freedoms for individuals, groups and churches.
With the Exoro/Zions poll in hand, UtahPolicy will soon conduct its own Dan Jones survey of Utahns, and among many other topics now before the 2015 Legislature, will ask again about Utahns’ feelings towards anti-discrimination laws protecting gays and lesbians in housing and employment.
That way, the impact of LDS Church leaders’ recent comments may be measured.
Here is some interesting data about Utahns’ beliefs on this subject as measured by the December-January poll:
— Republican voters favored Urquhart’s bill 41-31 percent, with 26 percent neutral.
— Democrats favor the bill, 89-5 percent, with 5 percent neutral.
— Political independents favor the bill, 62-20 percent, with 18 percent neutral.
Now, some gay/lesbian advocates may complain that the new poll shows a lower support ratio than in past public opinion surveys.
And that is likely because the USU professors decided to provide a “neutral” option among the answers.
The poll question read: “There is a proposal to make it illegal to deny someone employment or housing on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?”
Respondents were given five options on a 1 to 5 scale: Strongly oppose (1), Somewhat oppose (2), Neutral (3), Somewhat favor (4), and Strongly favor (5).
The 1 and 2 responses were combined to give an “oppose” total; and the 4 and 5 responses were combined to give a “favor” total.
Most other polls on this issue over the last several years just asked whether the person favored or opposed the Urquhart law, not giving the “neutral” option. Forced to make a choice, “neutral” respondents would move to either the favor or oppose column in those polls.
Still, the Exoro results do show some softness in both support for the Urquhart bill and opposition to it.
— Among those who said they are “very conservative,” only 32 percent favor the anti-discrimination bill, 42 percent oppose it and 23 percent are neutral.
— Among those who said they are LDS, 44 percent favor the bill, 29 percent oppose it, and 25 percent are neutral.
Outside of those two groups – and they are groups Utah lawmakers listen to – support for the Urquhart bill soars.
— Catholics favor the bill 85-9 percent with 6 percent neutral.
— Protestants favor it 69-19 percent with 9 percent neutral.
— And those with no religion favor it 84-10 percent with 6 percent neutral.
— Those who said they are “somewhat conservative” favor the bill 48-23 with 28 percent neutral.
— Those who said they are political “moderates” favor it 65-16 percent with 18 percent neutral. Those who said they are liberals absolutely love the bill, finds Jones.
Finally, while no doubt there is growing support for the Urquhart bill after the LDS Church leaders’ Tuesday statements, there is still one big question mark out there.
Church leaders spent most of their 20-minute press conference talking about the need for further governmental protections for the religious liberties and rights of individuals, faith groups and religions.
That sounds great enough.
But some on Capitol Hill are already saying this could mean that exemptions could be carved out of Urquhart’s bill.
(Perhaps not in his bill itself, but in a companion piece.)
This could mean that an individual’s deeply held religious beliefs could be considered, in law, in enforcing anti-discrimination in housing and employment.
Thus, if a private apartment owner really, really opposed same-sex marriage, or gay unions of any kind, could a law be crafted to allow that apartment owner to refuse to rent to a gay married couple, or refuse to rent to four gay people living together, because doing so violated his freedom to exercise his religious beliefs?
If a gay couple was getting married in a small rural Utah town, and there was only one bakery in that town, could that baker refuse to make a wedding cake for a ceremony her deeply held religious beliefs opposed?
And couldn’t those exemptions in effect gut the Urquhart bill?
And watch in the weeks ahead for a new UtahPolicy poll on Urquhart’s anti-discrimination bill concerning gay and lesbian anti-discrimination in housing and employment.