Mormon Church Working With LGBT Leaders on Utah Anti-Discrimination Bill
Officials from the Mormon Church have apparently been working with Utah’s LGBT community in order to create a bill that would protect gays from housing and employment discrimination in Utah, Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, opened a bill file on Thursday, called "Housing and Employment Amendments" and will sponsor the measure if the two parties can reach an agreement. Although 16 cities in Utah have passed similar ordinances, this bill would ban anti-gay discrimination statewide.
"We have been working with many community partners, but we’re not ready to release a bill," Brandie Balken, executive director for Equality Utah, told the newspaper. Although she wouldn’t give details about specific discussions, she did say talks have been going on for eight months and she is confident that a bill will be introduced soon. She added the groups will, "take the time necessary to work on the language until we have the best possible bill."
The move may surprise some, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a strong supporter of Proposition 8 in 2008. Still, within recent years, members of the church have changed their views on the LGBT community, even though the Mormon church opposes same-sex marriage. In 2009, the church backed a similar measure that was passed by Salt Lake City and said it is "fair and reasonable and does not do violence to the institution of marriage." The measure exempted religious institutions from banning discrimination, however.
In December the Associated Press reported that Mormon leaders launched a new website that urged church members to be compassionate towards the LGBT community. LDS officials made it clear that they still view marriage as a union between one man and one woman and that same-sex relationships are sinful but the website urges gay and lesbian Mormons to stay with the church.
"Reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life can present an especially trying dilemma," church leaders wrote on the website. "Anyone who lives in both worlds can attest to its difficulty. But with faith, love and perspective it can be done."
In June, AP pointed out that more than 300 straight members of the Mormon church marched in the Utah Gay Pride Parade, which marked the first time a large group of Mormons took part in the parade.
While the Mormon church has evolved on their views on gay rights, a spokesman for the LDS Church said the church has been contacted as "one of many community stakeholders."
"The discussions are very preliminary. At this point there is no bill for anyone to respond to," Scott Trotter told the Tribune.
James Humphreys with the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization for conservative members of the LGBT community, said that the "passage will create uniformity for the business community."
"This is not only the right thing to do for all Utahns but speaks to our conservative values as we want simplicity in government and equal treatment, under the law, for each of Utah’s citizens," he added.
The Tribune notes that businesses in Utah attempted to pass the ban on housing and employment discrimination but a Senate committee voted against the measure.
The new anti-discrimination bill will have its share of opposers as well.
"If the law looked like the Salt Lake [City] ordinance, that would be very, very upsetting and something that, as always, I have opposed and will continue to oppose in every way possible unless I get some kind of revelation," Gayle Ruzicka, a conservative political activist and president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group, said.
The president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think-tank, Paul Mero, also told the newspaper that discussions between the Mormon Church and LGBT community over the anti-discrimination bill have been going on for years. He added that to his understanding, not all of the church leaders are agreeing on the measure and gay rights groups may have to give up too much to get the church’s endorsement.
"We’ve opposed [the anti-discrimination law] since the beginning and we’re going to oppose it," he said. "It would be unfortunate to create a war among friends, but that’s exactly what will happen."