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House speaker says anti-discrimination, religious liberty won't be fast-tracked

By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted - Jan. 28, 2015 at 5:42 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said Wednesday he doesn't expect lawmakers to move quickly on protections for both the state's LGBT and religious communities.

"This isn't an issue that's going to be fast-tracked or easy. It's going to be a challenge, whatever we do," Hughes said a day after statements were made on the issue by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On Tuesday, members of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a member of the Young Women General Presidency called for the state to preserve religious freedom while also protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

LDS Church leaders stressed that the government should ensure that people are not forced to perform medical or other services that go against their religious beliefs if others are readily available to provide those services.

But Hughes said during his daily media availability that while there should be some religious protections for those who work for faith-based institutions, others need to do whatever is called for in their job.

"We are all self-determining adults, and we need to choose professions and engage in activity that is consistent with our moral beliefs," he said, "and if there is something out there that would offend it or would violate it, stay away from it."

For example, if someone doesn't want gay or lesbian renters, the speaker said, they may be in the wrong business.

"If you're going to put into your business model those kinds of decision-making, I don't know that being a landlord is for you," he said.

Hughes, a property manager, said nobody is "crazy enough to start worrying about issues like that." He said anti-discrimination ordinances in Salt Lake City and other communities may send a "social message," but there have been no concerns to address.

"Government cannot imagine and find every solution to every scenario," he said. "If you have some people out there who are making decisions like that, it's bad business sense, and I just think they're not going to find success."

At the same time, lawmakers need to find a way to protect individuals from retaliation as a result of their religious beliefs, the speaker said, citing those who have lost business opportunities for opposing same-sex marriage.

"That's probably the same type of intolerance we're trying to protect in other areas," he said.

Raised a Mormon in Pennsylvania, Hughes said he has the perspective of having been a religious minority.

"You don't want to have laws that force people to do certain things," he said. "I just want to make sure whether someone is espousing a religious belief or espousing who they'd like to be married to or whatever it is, there aren't consequences you can foist upon them."

Hughes said legislative leaders will discuss how to proceed with potential legislation, including whether there should be one or more bills dealing with anti-discrimination and religious protections.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, told reporters lawmakers are going to have to figure out how to balance anti-discrimination protection and religious rights.

"I don't think the (LDS Church) is going to make a statement like that without there being some legal basis," Niederhauser said. "That's a discovery that the Legislature is still going to go through, and of course we’re going to look and see how those are going to be welded together."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the state's only openly gay legislator, said he's talking with Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, "about can we find enough religious liberty to go along with the very strong statement on nondiscrimination."

"I’m optimistic that we’re going to do that because, in a way, we’re setting a template not just for Utah but for a lot of the nation and actually the world on how these things can be balanced in a piece of legislation to protect everybody’s religious liberty and not discriminating," Dabakis said.

Urquhart's bill, SB100, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and unemployment. He said in a news conference Tuesday that he also supports protections for religious liberties.

"These are two things that are very compatible. There is nothing contradictory between the two things. I feel very confident that with the LDS Church at the table we will move forward, and I'm extremely confident we will pass the legislation," he said.

Contributing: Katie McKellar, Dennis Romboy Email: lroche@ksl.com Twitter: DNewsPolitics

Lisa Riley Roche

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