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Lawmaker’s proposals have Utah gay rights community concerned

SHARE Lawmaker’s proposals have Utah gay rights community concerned

SALT LAKE CITY — Two new bills filed in the Utah Legislature have Utah's gay community alarmed about the proposals' potential impact on government policies affecting gay and transgender Utahns.

Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, who helped craft Utah's constitutional ban on gay marriage, is sponsoring the measures. He said his HB109, titled the “Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act,“ simply "reaffirms this most fundamental freedom of religious liberty that goes back to the beginning of our nation.

"It has a very clear and steady stream of legal precedent," he said Thursday.

But advocates in the gay community believe the bill threatens local ordinances adopted by about dozen Utah cities and counties to prevent housing and employment discrimination against gays. And it would stop a bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, to extend those protections statewide.

"It would effectively repeal the ordinances that 11 cities and counties have passed across the state, as well as superseding the state anti-discrimination act," Equality Utah executive director Brandie Balken said.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Thursday he doesn’t see the need for McAdams proposal. “Dealing with these issues at a local level has worked thus far,” he said. “It’s probably not a big issue right now.”

Asked if HB109 would effectively trump those anti-discrimination ordinances, Christensen said “courts will decide that on a case-by-case basis, but they'll now have the constitutionally recognized balancing test of appropriate principles and standards with which to make those decisions."

Christensen maintains his bills simply codify existing laws and are not intended to target protections for those who are gay or transgendered.

His other bill introduced Thursday, HB270, would define marriage in state law as existing between one man and one woman and supported by God.

Marriage is already defined in the state constitution as existing between one man and one woman — an amendment Christensen helped write.

Putting similar language into state code is needed, however, because that is what's used to implement state policies, Christensen said.

"By putting it in code, you give it greater permanence," he said.

His bill says that by public policy a family consists of a “lawfully married man and woman and their children." It also requires publically funded social programs, services, laws and regulations designed to support families “be carefully scrutinized to ensure that they support the family.”

Christensen says programs aimed at assisting single mothers would not be prohibited, for example. But it could be used as an argument against altering Utah law to allow single people to adopt.

Balken fears the laws is too broadly worded and could prevent non-traditional families from receiving government services or accessing programs.

Contributing: Dennis Romboy and Associated Press

E-mail: jdaley@desnews.com