- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers, LGBT activists and officials with the Utah-based Mormon church released a landmark bill this week that blends discrimination protections for gay and transgender people and protections for the religious.

Some key questions about the bill:

HOW ARE LGBT INDIVIDUALS PROTECTED?

In employment, the proposal would bar decisions about hiring, firing, promotions or pay based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

It stipulates that employers can adopt “reasonable dress and grooming standards” and “reasonable rules and polices” for sex-specific restrooms and other facilities, as long as those standards also include accommodations for gender identity. For example, companies could offer a unisex, stand-alone restroom for use instead of a larger restroom with a bank of stalls. Those drafting the bill said they they’ve left room for companies to interpret what is a reasonable accommodation because they cannot pass a law to deal with all scenarios.

In terms of housing, the bill would make it illegal to refuse to sell or rent, deny a home loan or real estate services and to base other housing-related decisions because someone is gay or transgender.

WHO IS EXEMPT?

The bill exempts religious groups and the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts have long-standing ties to the Mormon church, which is the organization’s biggest sponsor. Utah lawmakers said the Boy Scouts did not request an exemption and were not involved in the drafting of the bill. The organization was included in the bill because of a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing its constitutional right to exclude gay members. The Boy Scouts now allows openly gay youth but still bans gay Scout leaders.

The bill also exempts small businesses with fewer than 15 employees and small scale landlords who have three or fewer housing units.

HOW IS A RELIGIOUS GROUP DEFINED?

Utah’s proposal includes protections for all manner of religious groups, including their religion-owned businesses or affiliated organizations, such as schools, hospitals and charities. The housing exemptions also apply to those contracted by religious groups.

For example, Brigham Young University, a private school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would be exempt, as would 1,400 landlords the university has contracted with to provide off-campus housing that abides by its standards and rules.

HOW ARE RELIGIOUS RIGHTS PROTECTED?

The proposal protects the rights of employees to express their religious or moral beliefs in “a reasonable, non-disruptive or non-harassing way,” as long as it doesn’t interfere with the company’s business. A law professor who helped work on the bill cites the example of Planned Parenthood barring a worker from wearing anti-abortion buttons.

If a company allows employees to discuss political or religious beliefs at work, the company must allow all opinions and beliefs to be expressed without retribution. Employers cannot punish or retaliate against workers for beliefs or actions expressed on their own time, such as donating to a campaign against same-sex marriage.

WHY DO LGBT ADVOCATES SUPPORT IT?

For years, advocates for gay rights have pushed for a statewide non-discrimination law. With this bill, they say workers and tenants no longer have to fear they will be fired or evicted if someone finds out they’re gay or transgender. While it allows for the expression of religious beliefs and exceptions for religious organizations, secular bosses and landlords cannot cite their deeply held religious beliefs as a justification to discriminate against LGBT individuals.

To prevent future legal challenges that could chip away at one side of the protections, the law includes a clause that if any part of the law is struck down, the entire law would be struck.

WHY DOES THE MORMON CHURCH SUPPORT IT?

Officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said this week they’re backing the bill because it meets the guidelines laid out by the faith’s recent nationwide call for laws that balance LGBT protections with religious rights. D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said the bill contains strong religious protections and a fair approach to housing and work.

WHAT DO THE CRITICS SAY?

Opponents say the bill is being rushed through the Legislature, which adjourns next Thursday. They argue the proposal appears to require employers to construct special restrooms that they may not be able to afford, that it should allow protections for individuals to refuse to serve LBGT individuals because of religious beliefs.

Several critics said they were opposed to the government recognizing or protecting LGBT people.

___

Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide