- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Hours after Utah senators unveiled comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that earned the approval of the Mormon Church and LGBT rights advocates, lawmakers in the House decided to move forward with an alternative proposal.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 on Wednesday to continue consideration of an anti-discrimination proposal introduced by Draper Republican Rep. LaVar Christensen. Christensen chairs the committee and cast the tie-breaking vote that kept his bill on the table.

Christensen said Wednesday that his bill addresses similar issues to the Senate legislation and called the sponsors of that measure “like-minded.”

But the language in his bill allows more latitude to actions by religious individuals, which proved to be a sticking point in the Wednesday evening hearing.

Several Republicans joined Salt Lake City Democrat Rep. Brian King in voting against Christensen’s proposal. They took issue with language they said would allow discriminatory acts in the name of religion.

They said they’d prefer to see lawmakers focus on the Senate proposal. That measure was shaped with input from LGBT groups and representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and several people fine-tuned the language.

Christensen became frustrated when King proposed holding the bill in committee so the House could focus on the Senate version.

He said the Wednesday morning news conference about that bill, which was attended by LGBT activists and Mormon leaders, “was a bill introduction. It wasn’t a bill signing.”

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative family-values group Utah Eagle Forum, told lawmakers that she supported Christensen’s bill because of its strong protection for the religious liberty of individuals, which she said is missing from the Senate version.

The vague language in Christensen’s bill originally drew criticism from the NAACP, though he has revised it since the criticism was made.

Christensen and his bill’s Senate sponsor, Highland Republican Sen. Al Jackson, said their proposal now draws on language from the Utah Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case.

It does not include the phrases “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” as the Senate proposal does. Instead, it uses the term “sex-related interests,” which Christensen said was designed to cover as many circumstances as possible.

Marina Lowe, a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, told lawmakers that term was “incredibly vague” and could be difficult to enforce. Lowe said the ACLU does not support the bill because it does not strike the appropriate balance between religious liberty and non-discrimination.



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