This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
With the swipe of a pen, Gov. Gary Herbert enacted a landmark, compromise bill that gives Utah its first statewide nondiscrimination protections for the gay and transgender community while safe guarding religious liberties for people of faith.
Herbert signed SB296 surrounded by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, their supporters and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers, who worked for weeks in concert with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to craft the proposal.
"I have no doubt the eyes of the nation are upon us," Herbert told the several hundred gathered in the Capitol rotunda for the signing ceremony. "We can do difficult things because we are determined to work together, one with another, as opposed to working against one another."
Afterward Herbert embraced Elder L. Tom Perry of the Mormon church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and handed him the ceremonial pen used to ink the historic legislation.
"How cool is this?" SB296 co-sponsor Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, asked the crowd, which responded with whoops and applause. "Here we make history. We have shown that LGBT rights and religious liberties, they are not opposites, they are not mutually incompatible, they are pillars in the pantheon of freedom."
The joyous ceremony was peppered with congratulations and expressions of gratitude for those who have never quit working to find compromise between Utah LGBT community and its dominant religious culture, which have often been at odds.
"Some will call it momentous, some will call it a miracle, some will call it history," said Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden. "I call it Utah."
With enactment of SB296 it will take effect in May, 60 days after being signed by the governor Utah will become the 19th state to provide statewide protections for the LGBT community in housing and employment based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, according to data tracked by the national Human Rights Campaign.
No federal laws provide such protections.
Dubbed by some as the "Utah solution," the bill has been hailed nationwide for its attempt to balance the advancements in gay rights with the deeply held beliefs and conservative values of churches and other religious groups.
In a statement issued Thursday, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights advocacy group, called the bill a historic "milestone compromise."
"A Republican majority has voted to expand Utah's existing nondiscrimination protections to include the state's LGBT community for the very first time," Griffin said. "Equality Utah, the ACLU of Utah and the bipartisan group of legislators who worked around the clock to move this legislation forward have achieved an incredible and collaborative victory for the people of Utah."
Under SB296, existing anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment will be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity and clarify exemptions for religious institutions and provide protections for religious expression.
The legislation would make it illegal for employers and landlords to discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Religious organizations and their affiliates would be exempt from the bill's requirements. The bill also prevents workers from being fired for expressing beliefs on marriage, family or sexuality unless they conflict with the employer's business interests.
After a late-night House vote Wednesday, Urquhart said the bill, which he proposed in three consecutive legislative sessions, would not have passed without the rare public support of the Mormon church.
The church's faith leaders said in a statement Thursday that they are happy with the outcome of the SB296 vote, saying that the bill "reflects the very best of collaboration and statesmanship from groups and individuals who may not always agree on all things, but who have passed landmark legislation that balances religious freedom and anti-discrimination. While other states may find a different solution, we hope this fair, balanced approach shows that fairness for all is possible."
Separately, lawmakers also passed SB297, which sets rules for government agencies that license and perform marriages. The bill would let individual clerks refuse to perform gay marriages for religious reasons, but would require those agencies to still identify someone to conduct those ceremonies.
Equality Utah and the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union initially opposed that bill, fearing it would undermine the provisions of SB296 and give broad latitude for people of faith to deny services and equal treatment to LGBT persons.
HRC's legal director, Sarah Warbelow, echoed that criticism Thursday, calling SB297 needless and disappointing legislation.
"Individuals who apply for jobs that serve the public should be prepared to serve the whole public equally and without reservation," Warbelow said.
A second religious liberties bill, HB322, which sought to enact individual conscience protections for people of faith had passed the House late Wednesday, but died Thursday after the Senate sent it back to a rules committee.