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Utah's Governor Signs LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill


The Republican governor of heavily Mormon Utah signed into law last night a bill that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. It bans discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in employment and housing. From member station KUER in Salt Lake City, Whittney Evans filed this report.


SENATOR STEVE URQUHART: One question - how cool is this?


WHITTNEY EVANS, BYLINE: Utah Republican Senator Steve Urquhart sponsored the legislation which expands an existing anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. He joined Utah Governor Gary Herbert Thursday evening for the ceremonial bill signing at the state capitol. Urquhart told the crowd LGBT rights and religious liberties are not incompatible.


URQUHART: They are pillars in the pantheon of freedom. I have nothing more to say because it's time to sign this bill.

EVANS: Most Utah lawmakers and Utah's governor are conservative Republicans and members of the Mormon church, which opposes homosexuality. Earlier this year, church leaders announced they would support such a measure as long as it included protections for religious beliefs. The bill makes clear religious organizations and their affiliates cannot be forced to perform gay marriages, and no one can be evicted or fired for expressing their religious beliefs, which Governor Herbert says strikes a fair balance.


GOVERNOR GARY HERBERT: And I do believe that what we've done here will become a model for the rest of the country of how they, too, can resolve these issues in their own respective states as we find the right balance necessary to discourage discrimination while protecting religious liberty.

EVANS: Paula Gibbs recently married her partner of 14 years after U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage in December, 2013.

PAULA GIBBS: The state has been through such an evolution since Shelby's decision just a year and a few months ago. So it's pretty remarkable to be here as a citizen of Salt Lake City, a citizen of Utah and a lover of this state.

EVANS: Few people publicly opposed the measure although some like Gayle Ruzicka of Utah's branch of the Eagle Forum say they are somewhat uncomfortable with the bill. Ruzicka says anti-discrimination laws should protect everyone equally.

GAYLE RUZICKA: I don't like lists of protected classes. And I know we already had it there. I would have changed that. I think we could've done a much better job, but it is what it is.

EVANS: Protections under the bill take effect in July. For NPR News, I'm Whittney Evans in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.