Christensen drops bills criticized as anti-gay
Rep. LaVar Christensen is abandoning his controversial legislation aimed at bolstering the traditional family, including a bill that sought to make iron-clad Utah's protections of religious liberty.
The Draper Republican said that the session is already overloaded, with a backlog of bills awaiting committee hearings, and the issues are too important to be rushed.
"I sincerely respect the different views and perspectives," Christensen said in a statement. "I would like to have time for that dialogue to continue so there is no confusion, misunderstanding or unintended consequences in the bills as they may ultimately be adopted."
Brandie Balken, executive director of the group Equality Utah, said she respects his decision to abandon the legislation.
"We agree that there are more pressing issues to be addressed this legislative session than narrowly defining the family, restricting the right to contract and stripping non-discrimination protections passed by 11 municipalities," she said.
Christensen had said the intent of his legislation was to strengthen Utah's protections of religious freedom and to reaffirm the state's commitment to the traditional family.
Paul Mero, President of the Sutherland Institute, who had discussed the legislation with Christensen, said he was not disappointed with the decision to stand down.
"All three bills are important enough to have a more thorough, longer discussion â¦ and deeper discussion will allay a lot of fears about their intent," Mero said.
Chief among Christensen's bills was HB109, "The Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act," which would have guaranteed unfettered religious freedom except to avoid the "gravest abuse of a constitutional right."
It also would have made religious liberty a "valid defense to claims of discrimination by others," and allowed those accused of discrimination to sue for damages.
A similar idea had been floated by Mero in 2009, after Salt Lake City passed an ordinance prohibiting employment and housing discrimination against gays and lesbians. A recent poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune found that 65 percent of Utahns supported expanding the anti-discrimination ordinances statewide.
Christensen is also abandoning HB270, which states that Utah laws and policy must support marriage between a man and woman, which, according to the bill, is an institution "consistent with the Laws of Nature and Nature's God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World, affirmed in the nation's founding Declaration of Independence."
His third bill, HB182, would have voided contracts deemed to be contrary to state policy. Christensen had said the bill was a simple clarification that the constitution and statute, not contracts and court decisions, dictate policy.
But taken in conjunction with his bill on the policy, there was concern the two could invalidate wills, trusts, power of attorney arrangements, and other contracts.
Mero said he is confident that Christensen did not intend to target gays, lesbians or any other group with his bills.
"My experience with all of these type of bills is that they're typically misunderstood, mostly because individuals and political activists read into them nefarious motives," Mero said. "If you knew Representative Christensen, you'd know that he doesn't have a bad bone in his body."
Balken said she looks forward to further discussions with Christensen, who has been "more than willing to engage with me, personally.
"I continue to believe that if we continue to invest in the process we'll come out with better legislation in future sessions," she said.