SALT LAKE CITY — A Mormon church-backed anti-discrimination law that protects gay and transgender people and religious rights took effect Tuesday amid skepticism from some LGBT residents over whether it lives up to its promises.
Gay rights groups pushed for an anti-discrimination law for years and finally succeeded during the 2015 legislative session with a deal that won the crucial backing of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The law makes it illegal to base employment and housing decisions on sexual orientation or gender identity. It was hailed as landmark legislation.
LGBT resident say the law is a positive step, but they worry it still allows discrimination because religious organizations and their affiliates – such as schools and hospitals – are exempt.
One example they cite is Brigham Young University, which is owned by the Mormon church and can still evict people from student housing for being gay. That exemption also applies to the 1,400 landlords who contract with the private Provo school to provide off-campus housing.
“It felt just like scraps, that we were so desperate for any kind of legal protection that we’ll just take anything,” said Seth Anderson, 33, who lives with his husband in Salt Lake City.
Utah’s law is different from religious-objections bills passed by legislatures in Indiana, Arkansas and Arizona in the past year because it’s limited to decisions about housing and employment. The other laws deal with the rights of businesses to refuse to provide services such as flowers or wedding cakes to same-sex couples.
James Ord, a gay Mormon church member, noted that not only does Utah’s law leave LGBT Brigham Young students unprotected, it also threatens nearby Utah Valley University students, who might try to rent from the same landlords.
“The loopholes in the law are so wide that you can drive a Mack Truck through them,” the 38-year-old Salt Lake City lawyer said.
Article continues belowTroy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, which negotiated with church leaders and lawmakers over the measure, disagreed and said the law provides tangible protections to the state’s 55,000 LGBT adults.
Its religious exemptions are on par with existing exemptions in federal law, Williams said.
In endorsing the measure, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it follows the principles set out in the faith’s call for laws that balance religious rights and protections for LGBT people.