Utah lawmakers pass anti-LGBT discrimination bill endorsed by Mormon church

A Mormon-church-backed anti-discrimination bill that protects LGBT Utah residents and religious rights received final approval at the state's Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday.

The House of Representatives voted 65-10 to pass the bill, which was only unveiled last week. The Senate passed it Friday.

The bill earned a rare endorsement from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which helped fast-track the measure through the Legislature.

Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican and member of the church, has said he'll sign the bill.

He's scheduled to do so at 6 p.m. on Thursday, according to his spokesman Marty Carpenter.

Conservative opponents have argued that the proposal, which is limited to housing and employment, doesn't go far enough to protect religious rights.

It doesn't address thornier discrimination questions about whether a business can refuse to serve someone for religious reasons, such as a wedding photographer who objects to photographing a same-sex marriage.

Critics have also argued that the bill creates special protections for gay and transgender people.

The Mormon church said it is fully behind the legislation, which follows the principles set out in its call for laws that balance religious rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The church's support for the measure comes as the faith's leaders have softened their tone in recent years regarding same-sex attraction. While moving away from harsh rhetoric and preaching compassion and acceptance, the LDS church insists it is not changing doctrine and still believes sex is against the law of God unless it's within a marriage between a man and a woman.

LGBT advocates who've been pushing the issue at Utah's Legislature for more than half a dozen years have celebrated the church's endorsement, which has offered the kind of broad support they need to pass an anti-discrimination law in conservative Utah.

The bill would make it illegal to base hiring, firing and other employment decisions based on someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also make it illegal to refuse to sell or rent, to deny a home loan, or to base other housing decisions because someone is LGBT.

Religious organizations and their affiliates such as schools and hospitals are exempt, as is the Boy Scouts of America, which has a ban on gay adult Scout leaders and has close ties to the LDS Church.

For religious rights, the bill allows for people to express their beliefs in the workplace without retribution as long as they are not harassing someone and the speech doesn't interfere with the company's core business.

For example, if a company offered wedding planning services specifically tailored to same-sex ceremonies, an employee would not be able to express their views opposing against gay marriage.

It allows employers to adopt "reasonable dress and grooming standards" and "reasonable rules and polices" for gender-specific restrooms and other facilities, as long as they also accommodate transgender people.

Lawmakers say they specifically didn't define a "reasonable" regulation in order to give employers flexibility to find a solution to their situation.

Later Wednesday, the House voted 66-9 to approve a bill that allows county clerks to refuse to marry same-sex couples for religious reasons. But the bill requires a county clerk's office to designate someone who will marry all couples, including gay couples, if the clerk opts out.

The 11 members of the House Judiciary Committee approved the measure earlier Wednesday, calling it a good balance between protecting religious rights while still accommodating gay couples who wish to marry.

Republican Sen. Stuart Adams sponsored the bill and said it guarantees same-sex couples will be able to find someone to marry them in each county.

LGBT advocates initially opposed Adams' bill when it included broader religious protections.

Equality Utah's executive director, Troy Williams, said Wednesday that his organization is now neutral on the bill after Adams addressed their concerns.

Several conservative organizations spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday, and the Mormon church issued a statement of support for the proposal.

It's unclear whether the governor would support the marriage bill.