Rep. LaVar Christensen, a Draper Republican and an architect of Utah's constitutional ban on gay marriage, has filed three bills that some advocates for Utah's gay and transgender community worry could have far-reaching impacts, from gutting city and county anti-discrimination ordinances to nullifying medical directives between same-sex partners.
But Christensen says each bill simply codifies existing public policy, including case law, and that none is targeted at unraveling existing protections for gay and transgender individuals.
"From time to time we need to take our core principals and assemble them … as a public policy statement that's easy to find so that you can uphold that," Christensen says.
Still, Equality Utah, the state's largest advocacy group for gay and transgender Utahns, worries that HB109, the "Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act," would undo ordinances adopted by 11 Utah cities and counties to prevent housing and employment discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. In Salt Lake City, the anti-discrimination measures received a landmark endorsement from the LDS Church. And 65 percent of Utahns support expanding the laws statewide, according to a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll.
"It's very clear, given the political context from which [HB109] emerged, that it's an attempt to repeal all of the municipal ordinances," says Clifford Rosky, an Equality Utah board member and University of Utah law professor. "It just happens to be a lot broader than that, too."
After Salt Lake City passed the first ordinances in late 2009, the Sutherland Institute, during its "Religious Freedom Forum," called on the Utah Legislature to "perfect" the ordinances by expanding an exemption for religious organizations to also include religious adherents. Christensen made opening remarks at the event before Paul Mero, Sutherland's president, pressed for the change.
But supporters of the ordinances worry that such an exemption would gut the ordinances, allowing anyone who did discriminate to claim religious freedom. HB109 says that religious liberty is a "valid defense to claims of discrimination by others."
HB270 states that Utah "public policy" is that a family, consisting of a legally married man and woman and their children, is the "fundamental unit of society." The bill refers to marriage and families as predating government and consistent with "the laws of nature and nature's God, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the World."
HB182 says, "An arrangement, agreement or transaction that is unlawful or violates public policy is void and unenforceable."
Brandie Balken, Equality Utah's executive director, worries the two bills together could nullify contracts between gay and lesbian couples. But Christensen insists the bills would not affect any individual's ability to enter into a legally binding contract with someone else.