Proposed Religious Liberty Bill Will Be Limited to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Utah GOP leaders are about to unveil a gay anti-discrimination bill that will include religious freedom language, but limiting such language specifically to gays and lesbians and housing and employment.

In other words, says Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, his SB100 will not go beyond “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the religious belief area, he told UtahPolicyMonday morning.

By Tuesday the reworked SB100 should become public, Urquhart said.

“We are looking at just one bill,” he said, and not deal with the gay and lesbian issue in one bill, and a religious expression freedom issue in another.

Urquhart has run, unsuccessfully, a gay and lesbian anti-discrimination in housing and employment bill for the last several sessions.

Support for such a statewide anti-discrimination bill for gays and lesbians in housing and employment has been building for some time – and recent UtahPolicy polls by Dan Jones & Associates shows nearly 80 percent of Utahns favor such action.

Urquhart’s SB100 got a big lift when leaders of the LDS Church endorsed such legislation the first week of the session.

But at the same time Mormon leaders called for some kind of religious expression freedom protections – and it was unclear if such action should be broad, go beyond gays and lesbians and housing and employment, or stay within the more narrow confines of gay and lesbian protections.

Urquhart told UtahPolicy that his SB100, as reworked, would provide such religious freedom language – but only in housing and employment.

In other words, his bill – and his agreement with GOP leaders – would not extend to public accommodation or other areas.

Examples have been given whereby a faithful Mormon florist would be forced to provide flowers to a gay marriage couple – and could be susceptible to civil action by the couple if she refused to sell them marriage flowers.

But since such an action would be outside of housing and employment, it appears that such a fearful occurrence would not be dealt with in SB100.

However, under the employment banner of religious freedom, perhaps the case of the Salt Lake City police officer who asked to be reassigned from motorcycle parade duty in the annual gay and lesbian parade could be covered.

In other words, the officer’s religious freedom protections would come in his employment, and the officer could not be punished for his refusal to be in the motorcycle guard duty in that specific parade.

“This is a big enough lift,” Urquhart told UtahPolicy Monday – that is gay rights and limiting the bill’s religious freedom expressions to housing and employment.

Public accommodation or other, more broad religious freedoms, “will have to come down the road” – or in a future Legislature, said Urquhart.

“I’m totally on board, supportive” of the religious freedom protection language coming in SB100, Urquhart said.

And he believes dealing with both issues – gay and lesbian anti-discrimination protection in housing and employment AND religious freedom in those two areas – is best dealt with in only one bill.

That meets concerns of GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Gary Herbert – all whom have said either both issues should pass this session, or neither issues should pass.

Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, has introduced a bill that deals in broad terms with both issues. But his HB322 does not mention gay and lesbian by name, and goes way beyond Urquhart’s ideas on limiting religious freedom to housing and employment for gays and lesbians.

“We have a lot of law concerning anti-discrimination in a number of areas,” said Urquhart. And his reworked SB100 will not weaken those laws, nor intrude into their areas of coverage, he added.

Perhaps in future Legislatures, says Urquhart, legislators may want to revisit religious expression freedoms – but that extension should not be part of SB100, or in any way hinder gay and lesbian anti-discrimination in housing and employment this year.