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Herbert says prejudice exists on both sides of religious freedom, nondiscrimination issue

Gov. Gary Herbert at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. Herbert said Thursday he is aware of Utahns who have lost their jobs because they spoke against same-sex marriage, and reiterated that a statewide nondiscriminati
Gov. Gary Herbert at the State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014. Herbert said Thursday he is aware of Utahns who have lost their jobs because they spoke against same-sex marriage, and reiterated that a statewide nondiscrimination law should be coupled with religious freedom protections.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he is aware of Utahns who have lost their jobs because they spoke against same-sex marriage, and reiterated that a statewide nondiscrimination law should be coupled with religious freedom protections.

Not only have people been targeted for "just using their First Amendment rights of free speech," but "they've been targeted in their workplace and some who, in fact, have been threatened or lost their job or seniority," Herbert said.

"The discrimination occurs on both sides of this issue," the governor said. "We think of the anti-discrimination mostly being on the side of the gay community, but there's some that have been discriminated on the other side. That's inappropriate."

The governor's comments came at his first news conference of the 2015 Legislature. Lawmakers are working through legislation on those issues.

Herbert said he's "not at liberty" to talk about the incident or incidents, but "it's been verified."

"I think that will come up in the testimonies that are going to be given as we go through this process," he said. "Anecdotal stories are coming in. I don't like to create legislation by anecdote."

Herbert said it's unclear whether the cases are covered under existing law.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said it's "despicable" that someone would be fired for being opposed to same-sex marriage, and it shows the need for nondiscrimination laws.

"The nondiscrimination law protects everybody from being discriminated against because of sexual orientation, whether it's straight or gay," said Dabakis, Utah's only openly gay legislator.

Gayle Ruzicka, Utah Eagle Forum president, she was not aware of any incidents of discrimination against someone for opposing same-sex marriage but would be "anxious" to find out. She said it would be an example of why religious protections need to be part of the law.

Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said he'd be also interested to know the stories behind Herbert's comments.

"It sounds like a First Amendment issue to me," he said.

Williams said he could pack a conference room with gay and transgender Utahns who have been fired, denied promotions and harassed.

"I hope were not getting into who's the greater victim," he said.

Williams said he received a letter from the governor this week saying he believes lawmakers, religious, business and civic leaders, and the gay community can respectfully work together on anti-discrimination and religious freedom legislation.

"I completely take him at his word," he said.

Last week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called on government leaders to preserve religious rights while also protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and transportation.

LDS Church leaders also emphasized that people should not be forced to perform services that go against their religious beliefs.

In light of those statements, leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature say they want to combine those elements into a single bill. Lawmakers have yet to unveil any legislation to that end.

"We're still in discussion on that," said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. "I'm not aware of any bill that's imminent."

Herbert said all sides will have to compromise, and not everyone will get what they want.

"We're going to try to thread the needle here, bring people together to find that common ground that people have talked about the last few years," he said.

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