SALT LAKE CITY – Senate Bill 296, the Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments, which extends housing and employment protections to LGBT individuals while also seeking a balance with freedom of religious expression, passed the Utah House Wednesday night in a 65-10 vote.
Immediately following SB 296’s passage, the House also passed Senate Bill 297 in a 66-9 vote. The bill allows government officials and employees to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages if they have religious objections, yet also ensure that someone is nonetheless available to provide the service.
Senate Bill 296 – Antidiscrimination
Unveiled just a week ago and backed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, SB 296 now goes to the governor. Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to sign the bill into law in a ceremony Thursday at 6 p.m.
When it was announced that the bill passed, the gallery exploded into cheers and applause from assembled supporters.
Prior to the cheers, the chamber of the Utah House was quiet Wednesday evening as Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, the bill’s House sponsor, took the floor. Pausing several times to compose himself as he spoke, Dee said the House had opportunity to take on very specific and important issues in the state.
“What we’ve tried to do over the last few months, with input from many stakeholders, is to try to address an issue in Utah that we sometimes feel it’s best to postpone or hide from,” Dee said. “But that’s not who we are.”
Dee said it took him at least three years to “come to fruition” on the bill, that it had been a journey for him. He also said that, while he doesn’t support the lifestyle of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he nonetheless has come to know and love them as people, and that they are just as deserving of the same protections as anyone else.
“In the narrowest form, I’m asking you to guarantee their rights,” Dee said. “The same rights you and I have today.”
Under the terms of SB 296, employers and people in various capacities having to do with the management or sale of residential property cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
- Small businesses with 14 or fewer employees are exempt
- Residential property transactions involving less than four dwellings are exempt
- Related transactions, such as financing and brokering the sale or rentals, are included in the antidiscrimination provisions
- Someone who expresses personal religious views about marriage, family or sexuality in a nondisruptive and nonharassing manner in the workplace – or outside the workplace – cannot be fired or denied housing on those grounds
- Religious organizations, their affiliates, religious schools and the Boy Scouts of America are exempt
While the majority of the Republican-dominated House passed the bill, 10 representatives remained opposed.
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, said he felt the bill was going through too fast and the House hadn’t had ample time to properly vet it. He also didn’t believe the housing provisions are necessary. As a property manager himself, Peterson said, he hasn’t experienced a complaint or issue related to any LGBT tenant’s lifestyle.
“We can be a culture of kindness in this state without being compelled by the law,” he said.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, also said the bill was going too fast and hadn’t been afforded the proper processes of review other bills had. “This is a constitutional dive in a very shallow pool of time and process,” he said.
“I don’t see this bill as moving too quickly,” Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, said. “We’ve discussed this bill for years.”
Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said he dreaded the fact the matter hadn’t been resolved by now. “It is time for Utah to address the issue,” he said.
“I am convinced the time is right,” Snow said. “I’m not saying this legislation is perfect, but it represents a balance for where we are at this point and time …. We must take the current when it serves, and I think that time is now.”
When the debate had ended and a call to vote was made, SB 296 quickly passed with 65-10 votes.
Representing Southern Utah in the House: Reps. Brad Last, Michael Noel, John Westwood, V. Lowry Snow and Merrill Nelson voted in favor of the measure. Reps. Don Ipson and Jon Stanard voted against it.
Representing Southern Utah in the Senate: Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers voted in favor of SB 296 on March 6, when the bill passed the Senate 23-5 with 1 not voting. Sen. David Hinkins voted against the bill.
Read the full text of the bill here: 2015 S.B. 296 Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments – proposed
Senate Bill 297 – Religious expression protections
Sponsored by Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, SB 297 allows some government officials and employees to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages based on “religious or deeply held beliefs about marriage, family, and sexuality.”
However, a county clerk’s office must make sure someone is available to provide the service if others decline. If an alternate choice isn’t found, the objecting clerk or employee will be made to provide the service regardless.
The bill also prohibits government retaliation against persons in general who decline to perform marriages or provide accommodations for them based on religious belief.
The bill “strikes a proper balance,” Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, said. “I will support this bill,” he said.
The LDS Church also expressed its support for SB 297 and released the following statement:
The Church has been consistent in its support of marriage between a man and a woman while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. There have been various attempts discussed by lawmakers to deal with the changing definition of marriage in our state. We are supportive of SB297 because it is a more balanced and fair approach to marriage and religious freedom protections.
While SB 297 also experienced majority support in the House, passing 66-9, some lawmakers voiced their opposition.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the bill was a solution looking for a problem. He also said that government officials should leave their religious beliefs at the door, and if they couldn’t, they should be running for public office.
“We believe in separating church and state,” King said.
SB 297 will be signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert at the same time he signs SB 296 in a ceremony Thursday at 6 p.m.
Representing Southern Utah in House: Reps. Brad Last, Michael Noel, John Westwood, V. Lowry Snow, Merrill Nelson, Don Ipson and Jon Stanard voted in favor of SB 297.
Representing Southern Utah in the Senate: Sens. Ralph Okerlund, David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers voted in favor of SB 297 on March 9, when the substitute bill passed the Senate 24-5.
Read the full text of the bill here: 2015 S.B. 297 2nd Substitute – Protections for Religious Expression and Beliefs about Marriage Family Sexuality
- LGBT rights, religious liberties bill passes Senate, advances to House
- Nondiscrimination, religious liberties bill unveiled, praised by officials
- LDS Church expresses support for LGBT nondiscrimination measures
- City hears request for possible nondiscrimination ordinance
- Sen. Urquhart plans to reintroduce nondiscrimination bill
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