Bill that could exempt officials from performing same-sex marriages sparks debate in Utah legislature

Posted at 9:51 PM, Mar 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-07 16:46:23-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Hours after the Utah Senate passed a LGBT non-discrimination bill Friday afternoon, one of its co-sponsors proposed a bill that critics argued promoted discrimination.

“The elation I felt over its passage is a bit dampened coming to listen to this bill,” said Maryann Martindale, Executive Director of Alliance for a Better Utah.

The criticism came during a meeting of the Senate Business and Labor Committee, where Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, proposed SB296.

Under the bill, state and local government officials would be allowed to opt out of marrying same-sex couples if it went against their beliefs. However, there is a catch. If a clerk refuses to perform a marriage, they would then be prohibited from performing any marriages whatsoever, with the exception of family, and the county would then have to find someone else to fulfill the duty.

"Sometimes, when you're in the middle, you get arrows shot at you both ways,” Adams said. “So, what SB297 does is simply try to deal with what we've been dealt by the court's action that we have same-sex marriages. So, we need to do that in a very respectful, very dignified, orderly way."

Adams stated that SB297 had nothing to do with SB296, the non-discrimination bill that passed the Senate 23-5. On the contrary, he felt it dealt with a different issue many in the state are facing.

“People should not be, should not have to carry on a political conversation with the concern in the background that they could lose their job because of their position on it,” said a spokesman for conservative think-tank, the Sutherland Institute.

The language of the bill would prevent any sort of retaliation against clerks who have a religious objection to same-sex marriage (or even marriage counselors). But some took issue with how broad that protection went. One provision stated people of a religious official or organization could opt to not provide goods or accommodations contrary to their beliefs.

“When you take on the business of serving the public, as a member of the government, it is our position that you don't get to pick and choose which members of the public that you serve,” said Marina Lowe, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

A substitute bill was accepted in place of SB297, which Lowe said did seem to narrow the scope of how far the protections went in the workplace.

The bill passed the committee unanimously. It now heads to the full Senate.