- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A bill that would have made it illegal for businesses to refuse to serve gay or transgender people for religious reasons will not pass this year.

Bill sponsor Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis of Salt Lake City said Tuesday he doesn’t want to distract from a pending hate-crime proposal that would add protections for gay and transgender people.

“It just didn’t seem like a good year to divvy the troops up,” he said.

Dabakis, the Utah Legislature’s only openly gay lawmaker, introduced the proposal last week. He said he is pleased the proposal was considered, even for just a short amount of time.

The plan would have put Utah in line with 22 other states that have beefed up laws protecting LGBT people by adding sexual orientation to the list of groups that public facilities cannot discriminate against, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Dabakis introduced a similar proposal last year that failed. The need for this plan has increased since last session, as more Utah residents are facing discrimination, he said.

“If you want to do business with the public, you should not be able to say to a lesbian couple, ‘We don’t want your kind in our restaurant or in our store,’ ” Dabakis said.

Utah’s proposal comes on the heels of a statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church said an anti-discrimination law last year struck a balance that protected religious rights and LGBT rights, and legislators should not upset that balance this year.

Last year’s law was limited to housing and employment, making it illegal to base decisions such as whether to rent a home or hire someone based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It exempted religious groups, small employers or landlords, the Boy Scouts of America and allowed employees to express religious or moral beliefs if they were not harassing or disruptive.

“In a state like Utah that sends a pretty significant message,” said Marina Lowe with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah.

This plan could be the final piece in the equality puzzle, she said.

Republican Sen. Todd Weiler of Woods Cross, a member of the committee that would have considered the proposal, said he has serious concerns about the plan. “We try to be a very business-friendly state, and this is basically telling businesses what they can’t do,” he said.

Laura Bunker with the conservative group United Families International said she is opposed to the plan because people shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and their religious convictions.

Dabakis said this is an important issue that needs to be considered. “We’ll bring it up again next year and every year until it passes,” he said.

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