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Utah governor says he’s open to civil unions, but must defend same-sex ban
Gay rights » Utah governor sticks by the ban on gay marriage but is willing to consider an anti-discrimination law.

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Herbert said he would have to see the specifics of Urquhart’s legislation before he officially endorses the bill.

Urquhart praised the governor for supporting efforts to prevent discrimination.

At a glance

Bills aim to protect religious liberty

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, and The Sutherland Institute unveiled a series of three bills Thursday evening that they said will protect Utahns’ religious freedom, including a requirement that Utah schools teach children about the history of religious liberty.

» One bill mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the state must show it has a compelling interest in order to interfere with someone’s practice of their faith or their exercise of their “religious conscience.”

» The second would require Utah schools to develop and teach a curriculum on religious freedom.

» And the third would be an alternative to a bill proposed by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, that prohibits housing and employment discrimination against gay and lesbian Utahns. Sutherland president Paul Mero said it would prevent punitive action against any employee based on activities outside the workplace that didn’t affect job performance.

The text of the bills being drafted are not yet available.

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"Clearly it’s helpful," Urquhart said. "That’s the job of a governor, to lead, and the only way to lead is by taking positions on issues. I think this is good leadership on his part and I think he recognizes the will of most Utahns as reflected in poll after poll. I’m proud of him."

Urquhart said he would also like to see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take a stand on the bill, as the church did in opposing changes to Utah’s alcohol policy this week.

"While it is silent, others are speaking on the church’s behalf," Urquhart said. "In the void you have Sutherland and others who are rushing in to say that the Mormon church wants the right for its members to individually discriminate against the LGBT individuals and I don’t think that’s correct."

Mero said he’s not convinced there is a problem with housing and workplace discrimination against gay Utahns now — since only three complaints have been filed since Salt Lake City adopted its ordinance in 2009 and all three were dismissed.

"I think it’s more Urquhart playing to the gay community and the Sundance crowd and trying out a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist," Mero said. "I think Steve is in the business of baiting the LDS Church, because he knows there’s no deal on this bill unless the LDS Church signs off on it."

In various concessions and carve-outs to the non-discrimination bill, Mero said that Urquhart has created legalized discrimination in order to win votes and it is wise for Herbert to stop short of endorsing a bill that Mero said is fraught with problems.

Balken, of Equality Utah, praised Herbert’s openness on anti-discrimination legislation.

"I think it’s important to acknowledge Governor Herbert for being willing to have a meaningful conversation on non-discrimination protections," she said. It is part of a discussion other states are having "and demonstrates a willingness to engage in that conversation in a way that is thoughtful and inclusive and not only speaks well of Governor Herbert, but speaks well of Utah."

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Twitter: @RobertGehrke

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