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For years, proposals to enact a statewide anti-discrimination law have faltered, but with the endorsement of the LDS Church on Tuesday, supporters believe this may be the year that changes.

The question remains, however, how the Legislature will respond to the church's call for protections of religious liberties and to what extent those safeguards might be married to the anti-bias bill.

"What you heard was [an] endorsement for nondiscrimination in employment and housing for LGBT individuals," said Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, the sponsor of the SB100 anti-discrimination measure.

"There is nothing contradictory to the two things [nondiscrimination and religious liberties]," he said. "So I feel very confident that, with the LDS Church at the table, we will move forward and I'm extremely confident that now we will pass the legislation."

Cliff Rosky, chairman of the board for Equality Utah and a law professor at the University of Utah, echoed that optimism and pointed to a string of public polls backing such a measure.

"The church supports the bill, the people of Utah support the bill," Rosky said. "Now all that's left is for the Legislature to pass it."

Gov. Gary Herbert said the church's statement was an important step to "find common ground on these important issues," but noted the nondiscrimination bill has to be combined with protections for religious liberties.

"In order to protect the personally held values of people on all sides," the Republican governor said, "any advancement of nondiscrimination legislation should be coupled with legislation to safeguard protections to religious freedom."

There was little question that the LDS Church announcement was a game changer.

"It drives a lot of what we do in the session when you have an announcement like that," said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. "Religious liberty is an issue we'd better take very seriously. The anti-discrimination component, we heard today."

But with 43 days left in the session, Hughes said, it is too early to know how the debate will play out.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he expects gay- and religious-rights legislation to have hearings, and then perhaps be combined into one final bill or agreement. "We're inclined to let all those issues be heard," he said. "But at the end of the day, they're going to need to be welded together."

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who is sponsoring a bill that would allow individuals to refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies for gay couples based on religious grounds, said the bills don't have to be combined and, as of now, he doesn't intend to meld his bill with Urquhart's, but he trusts legislative leaders to decide the best way to proceed.

Anderegg noted other bills from other lawmakers will seek wider protections for religious liberties, although they have not been publicly released.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke

Tribune reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this story