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SALT LAKE CITY – A former Salt Lake City police officer who was put on leave and later resigned after he objected to riding in the motorcycle brigade at the front of last year's gay pride parade is speaking out against what he believes was a violation of his religious liberties.
Eric Moutsos, 33, said Wednesday that he was unfairly branded a bigot despite simply asking to swap roles and work a different part of the parade in June 2014. Moutsos, a Mormon, says he felt uncomfortable doing what he considered celebratory circles with other motorcycles leading the parade because of his religious views. But he said he never refused to work the parade.
"It looks like we and I are in support of this parade," Moutsos said he told superiors about being in the motor brigade. "I said I would feel the same way if this was an abortion parade. I would feel the same way it if was a marijuana parade."
Salt Lake Police Department officials stand behind their decision to put him on leave, saying any hint of personal biases can affect an officer's ability to do the job.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Moutsos said he's coming out with his story now to be a voice in a national debate about how to safeguard religious beliefs while protecting LGBT rights.
He said he decided to come forward after months of silence after he listened to leaders with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announce a campaign last month calling for new laws that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination while also protecting people who assert their religious beliefs.
Moutsos issued a six-page statement through is attorney Monday that didn't have his name. But he decided to reveal his identity in an interview he gave to the Deseret News and KSL-TV that came out Tuesday night.
"It is unquestionably my duty as a police officer to protect everyone's right to hold a parade or other event, but is it also my duty to celebrate everyone's parade?" Moutsos wrote in the statement.
Several state legislatures, including Utah, are considering anti-LGBT discrimination laws alongside measures to safeguard religious liberties. Moutsos hasn't been invited to talk to lawmakers, but he said he would testify if asked.
"We can 100-percent disagree and still 100-percent love," Moutsos said. "I hate that we're labeled in this way that is so divisive."
Moutsos' life changed dramatically in the days leading up to last summer's gay pride parade. He had been talking with his bosses about resolving his objections while still helping out during the parade when he was informed he was being put on leave for discrimination in a move that shocked him.
The story became public after police issued a news release saying an unnamed officer had been put on leave for refusing the gay pride parade assignment. The department said it does not tolerate bias and bigotry, and it does not allow personal beliefs to enter into whether an officer will accept an assignment.
Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank echoed that in comments to the Deseret News this week. "With police officers — and this is the problem across the nation right now — you have to be able to do your job and set your personal feelings aside," Burbank told the Deseret News.
Moutsos, a married father of four, says he has gay friends and family and has no problem with 95 percent of their life choices. He said he is offended by the notion that he would treat gays and lesbians differently as an officer.
Moutsos has since found work with another police agency in the state. But he said the last six months were difficult and depressing for him and his family.
His attorney, Bret Rawson, said they have not made a decision about a possible lawsuit over the handling of the situation.
Moutsos acknowledged that he could have been more diplomatic in his conversations with superiors. But he doesn't regret asserting his beliefs.
"I used to be quite the hellion back in my day, and I found what I believe is God kind of later in my life," Moutsos said. "Now, I have such a strong, deep faith in Him . . . He and I love people, but I do not advocate certain things in people lives. In this parade, there were messages that I don't advocate."