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The board of the Sutherland Institute, the state's most prominent conservative think tank, has asked its longtime president, Paul Mero, to resign after long-simmering disputes apparently reached a head.

Mero, who ran the institute since 2000, said the disagreements were over "organizational matters" and executing the plans the group had made.

"There is no disagreement over philosophy or direction or the projects we've been working on," Mero said in an interview. "It's just a matter of differences over how we execute those plans and those differences, over time, became insurmountable."

Stanford Swim, chairman of the board of the Sutherland Institute, will serve as acting CEO until a new president is chosen.

"Paul has served faithfully and effectively as he has led Sutherland Institute from its infancy to becoming the most influential conservative voice in Utah," Swim said. "While the board feels this change is necessary as we move into the future, we are grateful for his dedicated service."

Mero was an outspoken critic of "special rights" — including the anti-discrimination ordinance — for people who he said choose to live a gay or lesbian lifestyle and argued it would infringe on the rights of other Utahns. He said a federal court ruling allowing same-sex marriage would erode the traditional family and undermine a free society.

He argued that any law or policy that restricts access to liquor benefits society and the burden should fall on those who want liquor more available to justify it.

Mero and Sutherland broke with the more conservative Republicans in 2011, when they supported a Utah immigration law that created a way for the state to legally recognize undocumented residents. Mero said the existing federal immigration laws were broken and created a system of lawbreakers.

And he was unafraid to take pokes at Utah's leading political figures, saying former Gov. Jon Huntsman's family had that "People magazine persona" and "they'll adopt their children Madonna-style." He said Gov. Gary Herbert erred in choosing a moderate lieutenant governor, Greg Bell, when he assumed office from Huntsman and predicted Herbert would lose his election in 2010.

James Humphreys, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay and lesbian Republicans, said he's not sure Mero's departure will mean much change in the Legislature when it comes to a statewide anti-discrimination law.

"Certainly Mr. Mero was a polarizing figure and very vehemently opposed to non-discrimination passing at the state level," Humphreys said. "However, the Sutherland Institute policy hasn't changed. He's just the mouthpiece. … I know that Mr. Mero was a very poor spokesman on the issue and that he did a lot of damage to the Sutherland Institute's credibility, but whether Sutherland will soften their stance or be more positively engaged [remains to be seen]."

Before joining Sutherland in 2000, Mero worked in Congress for 10 years. He was the founding executive vice president for The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and helped attract the ninth World Congress of Families convention to Salt Lake City next year.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke