Utah LGBT non‑discrimination bill exempts Boy Scouts, religious groups

Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City. MICHELLE L. PRICE [ap]

Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City.

Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers introduced a landmark anti-discrimination bill Wednesday that protects LGBT individuals while also carving out protections for the Boy Scouts of America and religious groups.

The proposal unveiled in the heavily Mormon state on Wednesday prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation when it comes to housing or employment.

Religious groups and organizations would be exempt from the requirement, as would Boy Scouts of America, which has a ban on gay adult Scout leaders and has close ties to the Mormon church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Utah, is the Boy Scouts’ largest sponsor. The church said it is fully behind the legislation, which follows the principles set out in the faith’s recent nationwide call for laws that balance both religious rights and LGBT protections.

“After a considerable amount of hard work, we believe that the Utah legislature has wisely struck that balance,” the church said in a statement. “While none of the parties achieved all they wanted, we do at least now have an opportunity to lessen the divisiveness in our communities without compromising on key principles.

LGBT activists have spent years pushing for a statewide non-discrimination law in Utah, but their efforts were fast-tracked this year after the Mormon church issued its call for this type of legislation.

At a news conference where Utah senators and LGBT-rights activists joined high-ranking leaders of the Mormon church, officials touted the measure as a model for the rest of the country and history-making for Utah.

“This will provide hope for thousands of LGBT youth living in Utah,” said Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams, who was raised Mormon.

Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who was raised Mormon and is openly gay, said in a statement: “This is a momentous moment in Utah’s cultural history. It is not a win for one side or the other, it is a win for all Utahns.”

It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday morning why lawmakers chose to include the Boy Scouts in their proposal, which has been negotiated behind closed doors for weeks.

Boy Scouts of America national spokesman Deron Smith said the organization didn’t have any comment on the legislation. Utah Boy Scouts leaders deferred comment to the national organization.

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