by Ryan B. Frazier
On March 12, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law newly enacted legislation aimed at preventing employment and housing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals. The monumental legislation amends the state’s antidiscrimination law to prohibit employers statewide from making employment decisions based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the law, a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be the basis for refusing to hire, refusing to promote, demoting, or terminating him or her. Utah law already banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, pregnancy, national origin, and disability.
The new law also provides safeguards for religious freedoms. The law exempts religious leaders and organizations such as churches and religious schools and their affiliates from the application of the new provisions. It also exempts the Boy Scouts of America or any of its subsidiaries or councils.
The new law has been touted as a compromise between LGBT rights and religious organizations. The law was endorsed by both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has its worldwide headquarters in Salt Lake City, and LGBT advocacy groups and others promoting LGBT rights.
The law has not been without controversy. Some believe that it doesn’t afford sufficient protections for religious institutions, while others don’t believe it goes far enough to protect LGBT rights. Others, however, praise the legislation as striking a balance between religious liberties and LGBT rights, demonstrating that the two sides can coexist and work together to find common ground.
With the signing of this legislation, Utah, a state often viewed as resistant or slow to enact legislation promoting LGBT rights, became the 22nd state to prohibit employment and housing discrimination legislation against gays and lesbians, and it became the 19th state to have similar protections for gender identify. Not even the federal government has passed legislation prohibiting employment and housing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals. Utah’s new law will go into effect in July 2015.