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Utah House panel approves LGBT anti-discrimination bill; awaits final vote

Utah House panel approves LGBT anti-discrimination bill; awaits final vote
SALT LAKE CITY — An anti-discrimination bill that has brought together the Mormon church and LGBT activists passed another hurdle Tuesday and awaits a final vote in the Utah House of Representatives.

Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City
Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City

The legislation “really can serve as a model for the nation,” said Sen. Steve Urquhart, a St. George Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors. The measure, hashed out in weeks of backroom negotiations, “strikes a superb balance” between protections for LGBT Utahns and allowances for religious liberties, he said.

The vote Tuesday follows an hourlong hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Monday evening. Committee members decided to postpone the vote on Monday to allow more time for comments from the public.

They approved the bill by a 9-2 vote on Tuesday. The bill now advances to the entire House and, if approved, to Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who has vowed to sign it.

The anti-discrimination bill was unveiled less than a week ago with the endorsement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has sped through the legislature.

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Some opponents have expressed concern that the proposal has been rushed, but Equality Utah’s Executive Director Troy Williams said he disagrees. “We’ve been working on this legislation for seven years, so that doesn’t seem like too fast for us,” Williams said.

Other opponents said Tuesday that the state has gone too far in protecting individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Dave Mallinak, a Baptist pastor from Ogden, warned lawmakers during the hearing that passing the bill would mean embracing “a new standard of morality.” He was joined by student Colton Bennett, who said that “man has no right to support what God has forbidden.”

But lawmakers did not seem sympathetic to that argument.

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Rep. Brian King, a Salt Lake City Democrat, said Bennett’s comments ignored separation of church and state. “Whose religion are we talking about?” King asked.

One of the two Republicans who voted against the bill also criticized some of the harsher comments.

“I’m troubled when I continue to hear expressions of intolerance” toward the LGBT community, Pleasant Grove Republican Rep. Brian Greene said.

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Greene said he has a personal connection to the LGBT community and is happy to see a “softening of the attitudes” on gay rights.

He couldn’t support the bill, however, because he does not think it does enough to protect religious individuals, Greene said.

Urquart told the committee that the legislation, which protects religious organizations, businesses with fewer than 15 employees and landlords with only a few units, has “robust religious protections.”

“Let’s pass this,” he urged lawmakers. “It’s time.”

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