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Gays don't need to be protected, governor says

While all people should be treated with respect, gay and lesbian Utahns do not need legal protection against discrimination, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday.

Herbert stopped short of condemning Salt Lake City's proposed anti-discrimination ordinance during his first appearance on the governor's monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7, but said a fair-housing and employment law for the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community would unnecessarily create a new "protected class."

"Where do you stop? That's the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes," Herbert said, adding "we get bogged down sometimes with the minutiae of things that government has really no role to be involved in."

But discrimination against gay and lesbian Utahns is a real problem that needs addressing, said Will Carlson, public policy director for Equality Utah.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with Gov. Herbert and talking about how prevalent the problem is," Carlson said. "Sexual orientation and gender identity are characteristics that both I and Gov. Herbert possess. By prohibiting discrimination based on those characteristics, both of us would be protected."

Equality Utah saw the bills of its Common Ground Initiative, which would have provided fair housing, employment and hospital visitation rights to the state's gay community, die in legislative committees earlier this year.

And while Carlson has lauded Salt Lake City for taking steps to provide its own fair-housing and workplace protections for gays and lesbians, at least one state lawmaker has said he would work to quash the ordinance should it be approved.

"We've never done what they're asking," said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, "nor have I seen any evidence that it needs to be done."

On Thursday, Herbert said he had not read the ordinance and did not know if it would lead to "potential unintended consequences."

While Herbert could not comment on the ordinance specifically, the governor "is a strong supporter of local government and believes in the process for municipalities to enact their own ordinances," his spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said.

Still, Herbert said he worried about the economic impact of creating a new "protected class." Business could be hurt if a new group of employees could stop their bosses from firing them, he said.

"That makes it difficult for employers to actually conduct their business," Herbert said, warning it would be a "significant problem within our business community."

When asked if sexual orientation should fall into the same category as race, gender and religion when it comes to protection from discrimination, the governor said no.

"We don't have to have a rule for everybody to do the right thing," he said. "We ought to just do the right thing because it's the right thing to do and we don't have to have a law that punishes us if we don't."