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2014 Utah legislative session: Guv emerges the victor
Speaker v. governor » Lockhart says she knows ‘‘how to take a punch’’; Herbert says ‘‘palace intrigue’’ is irrelevant.

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Gay-rights detente » One high-profile issue coming into the session — how the state would address gay rights and same-sex marriage — got shelved early by Republican leaders who refused to wade into the issue while the state was appealing a federal judge’s ruling striking down Utah’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

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In hindsight, said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser — after national backlash against Arizona’s legislation allowing businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian citizens based on religious beliefs — he was "more and more convinced that was the right decision for this session."

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling striking down Utah’s marriage ban, Niederhauser said, "created an emotional time to discuss those issues. I think we can come back in a less emotional time next year and address them better."

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, whose bill to prohibit housing and employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns got sidelined, said there still was progress on the issue.

"We took some significant steps forward and that’s not always measured in passing the committee or passing on the floor," Urquhart said.

Thirteen protesters demanding SB100 get a hearing were arrested while blocking access to a hearing. But in the wake of the protests, Urquhart and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, organized an emotional, informal hearing where gay and transgender Utahns could share their stories.

"I really think we touched some hearts and minds and people are, if not already swinging over to oppose discrimination, they’re thinking really hard about it," said Urquhart, who predicts it is just a matter of time before the bill passes. "The tide of society is changing."

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, who had a trio of bills shelved— including one similar to the Arizona law that created so much turmoil — said he accepted the detente, but believes the Legislature will have to discuss the balance of protections for religious people and LGBT individuals.

"I don’t think that will be a dead issue," said Reid, who is leaving after this term.

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There will continue to be conflict between religious freedom, he said, and rights the LGBT community is trying to assert. Reid said it is also possible that, whoever replaces him, may not be as outspoken on the issue.

"It’s hard to speak up on an issue like this because people can see what the trend is and most politicians don’t want to get caught up in being in opposition to the momentum and the trend," Reid said.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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