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Merging religious rights, nondiscrimination would be 'miraculous,' state senator says

Sen Stuart Adams during the Utah State Legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Friday, May 6, 2011.
Sen Stuart Adams during the Utah State Legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Friday, May 6, 2011.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A state senator trying to balance religious rights and nondiscrimination legislation says it could take some supernatural intervention.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said it's "very, very difficult" to make sure everyone is treated fairly and respected.

"Quite honestly, if we find a way to merge these things together, it will be a little bit miraculous," he said Thursday.

Adams said he's working with Sens. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, and Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, on a bill but couldn't say when it would be ready. But he said he's optimistic "that somehow we'll move forward with something."

Urquhart and Dabakis have already filed anti-discrimination bills.

SB100, sponsored by Urquhart, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace and house.

Dabakis' SB99 bans discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Adams said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' position on the issues is an integral part of the negotiations.

LDS Church leaders last month called on government officials to protect religious rights while also protecting LGBT Utahns from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and transportation. Church leaders also emphasized that people should not be forced to perform services that go against their religious beliefs.

Last week, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, proposed a bill that would add religious liberty provisions to the state's anti-discrimination and fair housing laws. HB322 proposes to guarantee "perfect toleration of religious sentiment" and that "rights of conscience shall never be infringed." It also says the legal exercise of religious liberty is a defense to claims of discrimination.

The bill provides for fair access to employment and housing, but does not specifically list protections against discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Adams declined to say how or whether Christensen's bill would figure into any proposal. He said it would be inappropriate to say at this point what pieces of any proposed legislation would be incorporated into a new bill or bills.

Asked if the bill lawmakers come up with would include the term LGBT, Adams said, "I believe it probably will." Including the words sexual orientation and gender identity is "sure a possibility," he said.

Adams also acknowledged the Legislature might not agree on a bill before adjourning in mid-March.

"It's more important that we get it right than we get a bill done," he said.

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