There could be one big bill in Utah on gay rights and religious liberties

Posted at 3:15 PM, Feb 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-11 21:08:24-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Lawmakers say they are moving ahead with bills dealing with LGBT nondiscrimination and religious liberties.

But House and Senate Republican leadership is emphatic that the legislature will not consider one without the other.

"It would polarize those two issues if we tried to move forward with one without the other," said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. "The best way is to try to work them both at the same time if we get together and I think that’s where most people are."

In the House, there is talk of one all-encompassing bill that tackles both gay rights and religious liberties. It's an idea supported by House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville.

"I think it needs to be a comprehensive piece of legislation," he told reporters on Wednesday. "So that we can balance the different interests."

Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, who is sponsoring SB100, which seeks to ban discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, insists that his bill does balance all interests.

"It's not the business of an employer or landlord to dig into people's religious beliefs, sexual orientation or gender identity," he said.

Still, he acknowledged not everyone in the Senate felt that way. He has been meeting with others who are running religious liberties bills to talk about compromises.

"Right now, all ideas are on the table," Urquhart told FOX 13.

Religious liberties bills are being drafted by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Rep. Jake Andregg, R-Lehi. Anderegg's bill has included a clause that a municipal clerk with deeply held religious beliefs may opt out of performing a same-sex marriage.

Late Wednesday, Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, unveiled his own religious liberties bill (HB322). The bill would guard religious beliefs and prevent discrimination in housing and employment -- but the language itself does not mention "LGBT."

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who has his own bill on LGBT protections, called it "seriously flawed"

"Serious people are now trying to find the language for a bill that will protect sacred First Amendment protections and make our state a national role model that does not tolerate discrimination in housing and employment. I remain optimistic that we will find a way," he said in a statement to FOX 13 late Wednesday.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he anticipated their version of a religious liberties bill out next week and the Senate caucus could discuss it by then. Dunnigan said the House GOP caucus would not likely consider religious liberties bills for another couple of weeks.

The LGBT nondiscrimination bill has been run for three years now without going anywhere. It got a big boost this year when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its support -- so long as it was coupled with protections for people's religious beliefs.