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Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination ordinances passed in 2009 and set the stage for 18 other local governments and, eventually, the Utah Legislature, to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
But the new statewide law that will become effective May 11 supersedes local ordinances and gives victims of housing or employment discrimination a right of redress not offered under the city and county protections.
The 17 cities and two counties that passed nondiscrimination ordinances can fine violators, with penalties ranging from $500 to $1,000. But the victims of that discrimination receive nothing, said Clifford Rosky , a University of Utah law professor and chairman of the board of Equality Utah.
By contrast, the state law will allow residents to file complaints with the Utah Labor Commission. If the complainant prevails, he or she is entitled to reinstatement, back wages and legal fees.
"A fine is a protection," Rosky said. "But it's nothing like back pay, reinstatement and attorney fees."
While the new state code adds teeth to discrimination claims, it also carves out broad exemptions under the law for religions and their affiliates.
One of them is for corporations wholly owned by a church or religion. For example, Mormon church-owned Brigham Young University does not fall under the state anti-discrimination law. The school can discriminate based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.
The state law also excludes private educational institutions, associations and societies. That includes some 110 private parochial schools such as Judge Memorial Catholic High in Salt Lake City.
The law also excludes religious affiliates, such as LDS Family Services and Deseret Book.
Not least, the law exempts small businesses with 15 or fewer employees, as well as the Boy Scouts of America.
Those exemptions, however, are no broader than the ones offered in Salt Lake City's ordinances, Rosky said.
Nonetheless, the perplexing notion that there was some sort of trade-off persists, Rosky said.
"It's like there must be some catch," he said. "Because [some skeptics seem to think] there is no way the LDS Church could do something good for LGBT people."
In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints endorsed Salt Lake City's nondiscrimination ordinances and Utah's newly adopted law.
Utah always has had broad protections for religious organizations and their affiliates, he said.
John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, agreed. "Utah has the broadest religious exemptions in the nation."
Nonetheless, Mejia said, the new law is a "milestone for Utah."
The executive director of Equality Utah, Troy Williams, agrees that the state law offers better protections and, because it is statewide, covers more people.
The new law allows people to express views outside the workplace without facing retribution. Rosky points to California's Proposition 8, which held that marriage can be between only one man and one woman. Under the new Utah law, you could donate to that cause or donate against it and not be discriminated against in housing or employment.
"It's a win-win," he said.
The law also allows for discussions in the workplace that are "reasonable and nondisruptive" regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.
Such language may have protected former Salt Lake City police Officer Eric Moutsos, said state Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, a sponsor of the new law. Moutsos was placed on administrative leave when he told his supervisor that he did not want to ride in the Gay Pride Parade.
Moutsos resigned when his story hit news outlets.
In an interview, Moutsos said he did not object to performing public safety duties at the parade, but did not want to ride in the parade because of religious reasons.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker supports the new state anti-discrimination law, but Becker said he didn't know if it would offer additional protections in the Moutsos case because the officer resigned before the city could adjudicate it.
Moutsos doesn't necessarily agree. Nonetheless, he said, LGBT people have reached out to him, and he has reciprocated.
"What I'm excited about is that people are trying to come together to coexist," he said. "We all have different sets of beliefs, and we have to respect that."