LDS Church seeks to maintain balance of anti-discrimination law
SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church expressed concern Wednesday that a proposed Utah hate crimes law would upset the balance of religious liberty and gay rights state lawmakers achieved last year.
Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, has called his bill an "easy follow-up" to the state's religious rights and anti-discrimination bill he helped push through the Legislature in 2015. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly backed the bill.
The church's statement doesn't lend support to the hate crimes legislation but expresses concern about upsetting last year's hard-struck compromise.
“The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights," said LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones. "Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained.”
Urquhart wouldn't comment on the statement Wednesday. He and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, the state's only openly gay legislator, said they would hold a news conference Thursday.
SB107 would more clearly define a hate crime as an offense against a person or person's property based on a belief or perception about their ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation. It provides for enhanced penalties where those beliefs motivated the crime.
The Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee endorsed the bill last week.
Equality Utah, the Statewide Association of Prosecutors and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City support the bill. The Utah Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute have come out against it.
Last year, Utah added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment, expanded exemptions for religious institutions and their affiliates and provided protections for religious expression.
The bill came as the result of a compromise among often adversarial groups, including the LGBT community, state lawmakers and the LDS Church.