Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nothing new in a disappointing "Utah Compromise"

Last night the Republican majority Utah legislature passed a non-discrimination/religious liberty bill that has come to be known as the Utah Compromise. The bill bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and sexual identity in employment and housing while protecting religious institutions, their affiliates (like schools and hospitals) and the Boy Scouts. All are free to discriminate. The bill does not address discrimination in public accommodations. This bill has been passed because the Mormon Church shrewdly wanted it to be passed. The bill affords more protection to their enterprise than to LGBT citizens. Utah is a theocracy.

The bill is nearly identical to the Salt Lake City ordinance that was passed in 2009. Something that the Mormon Church touted as a similar compromise. Since then, nearly 18 more, almost identical, local ordinances have come into effect. These provided Equality Utah with a raison d'etre. I am not being overly critical of Equality Utah. They are in an impossible situation given the unique religious dynamic in Utah.

Sure. Two sides came together and crafted something. There was a presumption of good faith. Moreover, conservative Christians have recognized the existence of transgender people. Furthermore, as the New York Times pointed out, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are disappointed that the Mormon Church would further this legislation.

However, until LGBT citizens and taxpayers are protected in a fashion comparable to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, we are second class citizens. A hospital should not be permitted to discriminate in employment regardless of who owns it. Nor should a florist or baker should not be permitted to discriminate regardless of his or her religious beliefs. We did not tolerate biblical-based discrimination is 1964 (the Klan is a Christian organization). We should not be tolerating it today — not even in the state-sanctioned theocracy that is Utah.

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Author's confession: I set out to write a positive piece (which had a different headline) based upon the two sides coming together in good faith. The more I wrote, the less I appreciated the compromise.

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