National Edition

Religious freedom and anti-bias bills announced at pro-traditional marriage gathering

Published: Thursday, Jan. 23 2014 10:30 p.m. MST

If that was the perception in Utah, it changed dramatically in December when federal Judge Robert J. Shelby found Utah's voter-approved definition of marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay pending the state's appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver but not before more than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples married during a 17-day period following the ruling.

Mero blasted Shelby's ruling, saying it "threw the state's interest in marriage under the bus."

"There is an obvious societal or state interest in supporting traditional marriage and the natural family," he said. "Men, women and children are happier, healthier, better educated, more prosperous and physically safer in the nurturing confines of a traditional marriage and natural family — all uplifting qualities that further the cause of freedom."

One of the main sticking points in states where gay rights have run up against religious freedom is whether individuals can deny public services to a gay or lesbian couples for religious reasons.

In a few celebrated cases involving wedding services, courts have ruled against a New Mexico wedding photographer and bakers in Oregon and Colorado who claimed their faith prohibited them from accommodating a gay marriage.

Reid said his Religious Liberties bill would allow an individual to deny services in those situations based on religious beliefs.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he hasn't seen Reid's bill but that no state has gone so far to allow individuals to refuse service to gays or lesbians based on religious conscience.

"It scares me that this kind of extremism leads to incivility and non-respect for all Utahns," said Dabakis, who married his longtime partner after Shelby's ruling. "That's really not the high road that we need to take."

Both Reid and Mero urged the audience to treat those they disagree with civilly while giving those attending talking points to present to lawmakers who convene next week in a session where gays rights and religious freedom are sure to collide.

"In addition to a renewed support for traditional marriage and the natural family, I hope you leave here tonight with a renewed sense of citizenship and with a specific call to action," Mero said. "I hope you leave here tonight with a better understanding of what’s at stake and a better way to share your concerns with your elected representatives, family and neighbors."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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