SALT LAKE CITY — A Mormon Utah senator working to pass a hate crimes bill protecting gay and transgender people criticized his church Thursday for thwarting the measure by urging legislators not to upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights.
Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “effectively snuffed out” discussion on his proposal with its statement.
Church spokesman Dale Jones said in the statement Wednesday that lawmakers struck a balance last year with an anti-discrimination law that protected religious rights and LGBT rights. Jones said that balance should be maintained despite efforts on both ends of the political spectrum to upset it.
Jones declined to elaborate. There was no reply to an email to the church on Thursday seeking a response to the statements by Urquhart and supporters, including a prosecutor and representatives of several other faiths, at a fiery news conference.
“This is Utah. We know what happens when the LDS Church makes a statement about legislation. It does alter the course of the bill. That is the political reality of Utah,” said Troy Williams, the executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Utah.
Most Utah legislators are members of the faith, as are about 60 percent of state residents. The church’s political sway was evident last year when the anti-discrimination law that gay rights activists had been working to pass for years passed with broad support once the faith endorsed it.
Williams, whose group has been one of the main advocates for the hate crimes law, said he did not know Thursday if the church’s statement had changed minds on the proposal.
The faith’s opposition to a medical marijuana bill this year has been considered a death blow to the effort by supporters. Utah’s Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, acknowledged the church’s position would make that measure much more difficult to pass.