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A bill to allow some government officials to opt out of performing gay marriages received final approval Thursday.
The Senate passed SB297 25-3, agreeing to earlier House amendments. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, sponsor of the bill, noted it originally would have allowed elected officials such as mayors or the governor to opt out of performing gay marriages, but then they could not perform any marriages at all.
After House amendments, Adams said the bill no longer addresses elected officials such as mayors. "However, we gave an affirmative obligation … for the clerk's office in the counties that they need to be the marriers of last resort."
He added that inside clerks' offices, employees "would have the ability, for whatever reason, to opt out [of gay marriages] as long as there is somebody else inside the office" or by contract "who would marry them."
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, who is gay, said, "Every single county must provide for every single couple that comes to their county clerk office and has a valid marriage license and provide someone to marry them."
Endorsed by the Mormon church and, somewhat reluctantly, by Equality Utah, the measure was unanimously approved in a special committee hearing Wednesday evening and then rushed through to a final vote on the House floor, where it was easily approved. House Democrats opposed it saying that it let public officials dodge a responsibility that is part of the job.
SB297 would also prevent government retaliation against individuals who invoke religious beliefs as grounds for refusing to perform weddings or provide accommodations.
Equality Utah and the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union initially opposed the bill saying it might have given broad latitude for people of faith to deny services and equal treatment to those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Both also feared the bill could undermine the provisions in SB296, the landmark compromise bill to enact nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community in housing and employment.
Wednesday, however, Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said Adams has worked with the LGBT community to address most concerns.
"On principle, we don't love the idea of clerks opting out, but we do recognize the extent that Senator Adams has made at expanding opportunities for LGBT couples to access marriage services throughout the state.… Equality Utah supports religious freedom, and we recognize the value of clarifying these principles in our state's laws."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a statement issued Wednesday, said the faith has consistently supported traditional marriage, but believes all people should be treated with respect."We are supportive of SB297 because it is a more balanced and fair approach to marriage and religious freedom protections," spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an email.