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Utah just passed Mormon-supported workplace and housing protections for LGBT people

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the nondiscrimination law.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the nondiscrimination law.
George Frey/Getty Images
  1. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) on Thursday night signed a law that will protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and the workplace.
  2. Utah is the 19th state to enact a statewide nondiscrimination law that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to laws that already shield against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and age.
  3. The law includes major exemptions, including provisions that let religious groups and their affiliates continue to discriminate against LGBT workers.
  4. The law doesn't protect LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, bakeries, and other places that serve the general public.

The law is a compromise for LGBT and religious groups

LGBT civil rights protections

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and other LGBT advocates emphasized that the law is a compromise just for Utah, one of the most religious and conservative states in the country. After seven years of advocacy, LGBT groups said the law moves Utah toward becoming a more inclusive place — even if it falls short of the ideals they're pushing on the national level, where LGBT advocates came out against major religious exemptions after a controversial Supreme Court ruling in 2014.

A key moment for passing the law in in Utah, a predominantly Mormon state, was getting the approval of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The New York Times reported that the Mormon church sent two of its leading apostles to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City last week to show support for the legislation, which helped convince some of the more conservative and religious members of the state's legislature to pass it.

But the victory doesn't signal a total shift in Utah's LGBT politics. The Utah House on Wednesday also passed a bill, according to the Times, that would allow county clerks to opt out of same-sex marriages if they have religious objections — although officials would have to provide an alternative way for all couples, including same-sex couples, to get married during business hours. The bill is now in the Utah Senate.

"Legislation like SB 297 simply isn't necessary, and the spirit behind it is deeply disappointing," HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement. "Individuals who apply for jobs that serve the public should be prepared to serve the whole public equally and without reservation."

Still, the nondiscrimination law offers a victory for LGBT advocates in one of the most conservative states in the country. Although they want to see stronger protections in other states, they view the law as a small step forward for LGBT Utahns.