The Mormon-LGBT civil-rights deal breaks new ground in Utah

In Utah, Wednesday brought the remarkable sight of gay-rights leaders and Mormon church leaders standing together to endorse a new proposed anti-discrimination law. The bill extends housing and employment protections to LGBT people, and includes religious-liberty protections. Observers say chances of passage in the state legislature are good.
On March 16, Brookings will host an event about this proposal and its national implications. We’ll be featuring key players from Utah as well as national experts. Meanwhile, a few interesting things about this bill…
It appears to offer a real trade up for both sides. According to the Williams Institute, it will cover about 55,000 LGBT Utahns from discrimination. It also includes what appear to be carefully crafted religious-liberty protections.
The bill also contains what appears to be a real innovation: it protects employees from discrimination based on non-harassing, non-job-related speech about marriage, family, sexuality, and other such issues. This appears to be addressed to the (say) waitress or cop fired, or targeted by activists for firing, because of off-workplace speech for or against, say, gay marriage or California’s Proposition 8. A version of this idea was included in a proposed LGBT anti-discrimination bill that died in the Utah legislature three years ago. If it becomes law in Utah, it could become a national template.
Also of note: the letter “T.” Transgenders are included for protection. That had becoming a sticking point in passing a federal nondiscrimination bill. If Utah can get around it with LDS backing, that suggests there may be ways around the bottleneck.
The deal was warmly welcomed by gay leaders, both local and national, with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington calling it “all upside” and “a model.” This endorsement was not a given: one-sided “religious freedom” laws sought (and sometimes passed) by religious conservatives in other states have deepened suspicion in the LGBT world that religious accommodations are intended as a “license to discriminate.” Some LGBT folks now view any such accommodations as a poison pill. That view did not prevail in Utah, whose example suggests that good-faith negotiations and a tangible upside can still attract gay support for compromise.
Finally: the LDS church didn’t just issue a press release or a tepid endorsement. It sent two apostles—top leaders—to the press conference, standing with Utah gay-rights advocates and politicians. That suggests the church is putting some muscle behind this bill. And it suggests that the church’s call in January for broader LGBT civil-rights protections, coupled with religious-liberty accommodations, was intended as a policy initiative, not just a press release. It might become the basis for action in other states.