Utah Lawmakers Won't Take Up a Ban on Discrimination Against Gays

The Associated Press/January 30, 2010

Salt Lake City - Utah lawmakers will not consider a law that would ban discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the workplace and in housing, and will instead spend the next year studying the issue, key lawmakers said Friday.

In exchange, opponents of gay-rights legislation will drop any effort to prevent local governments from passing their own nondiscrimination laws this legislative session.

Gay-rights advocates had hoped to build on recent momentum created by the Salt Lake City Council, which passed nondiscrimination ordinances last year. Those ordinances passed after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it would support the measures.

In Utah, few law changes occur if the church disapproves. More than 80 percent of state lawmakers are Mormon, including Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican.

Mr. Herbert has said he disapproves of discriminating against gay men and lesbians, but that he does not think it should be illegal.

In calling for a type of legislative cease fire, lawmakers are hoping to avoid drawing national attention to Utah in the battle over gay rights during an election year.

The state has drawn criticism for the involvement of residents and the Mormon church in the fight over Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage there.

"There is a common desire to ensure that Utah is not the battleground for the nation on these kinds of issues," said State Senator Howard Stephenson, Republican of Draper. "We simply refuse to be that battleground. We hope to set a standard of civility and cooperation and respect that hopefully will be copied in other states."

Mr. Stephenson is co-sponsoring a measure introduced Friday calling for a study of employment and housing discrimination that will be completed by the end of the year. He said lawmakers may consider nondiscrimination laws next session.

State Representative Christine Johnson, Democrat of Salt Lake City, said she was hopeful the new tactic could help move gay rights forward. Gay-rights bills in the past have repeatedly been shot down by the Republican-controlled Legislature because of fears it could lead to legalizing same-sex marriage, despite a constitutional ban on the practice.

"This in no way means that opposing sides are abandoning their respective legislative goals," said Ms. Johnson, a lesbian who is carrying a child for two gay friends who cannot legally adopt in Utah.

The church has not publicly weighed in on a statewide nondiscrimination law.

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