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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “35 – SB296”

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35 – SB296

[This was used in Chapter 2, “Genesis,” but should be referenced for its contrast to SB296.


“Anita Bryant was praised Friday by the president of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for combatting homosexuality.

A telegram was sent to the Miami singer and one-time Miss America runner-up by Barbara B. Smith, Salt Lake City.

The message congratulated the entertainer for her work in gaining repeal Tuesday of a Dade County, Fla. law prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in employment and housing.

Miss Bryant was told in the message: ‘On behalf of the one million members of the Relief Society, we commend you for your courageous and effective efforts in combatting homosexuality and laws which would legitimize this insidious life style.’”  (“Relief Society Leader Hails Anita Bryant’s Homosexuality Stand,” Salt Lake Tribune, June 11, 1977, p. B3)]


“[p. 216] The church’s influence on lawmakers and use of its security arm to address ‘moral issues’ demonstrated a double standard between the LDS approach to sexuality and race. Church authorities invoked the ‘ways of the Lord’ to justify action against gay rights and inaction on black civil rights. In 1963, church officials told local NAACP members that civil rights was a political issue and the LDS Church only took a stand on moral issues. Two years later, NAACP-led demonstrations finally pressured LDS leaders to throw their weight behind a state civil rights law, but only a watered-down version exempting the Mormon Church. See Gottlieb and Wiley, 180.…” (Douglas A. Winkler, “Lavender Sons of Zion: A History of Gay Men in Salt Lake City, 1950-79,” PhD Dissertation, University of Utah, May 2008)


“Two years after leaving the Utah legislature to mount an unsuccessful congressional campaign against Democratic congressman Jim Matheson, former Representative LaVar Christensen has unseated incumbent Rep. Sylvia Andersen and received his party’s nomination to run again in November.” (“Christensen Wins Delegates’ Approval,” Q Salt Lake, May 6, 2008)


“[Brandie] Balken said she was not given any indication that the church might respond to Equality Utah’s invitation to join the Common Ground Initiative, which will return in 2010.…” (Matt Canham, Derek P. Jensen and Rosemary Winters, “Stunner: LDS Church to support for SLC anti-bias ordinance,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 10, 2009)


“The LDS Church’s unexpected endorsement of two Salt Lake City gay-rights measures has many observers wondering if another surprise could follow: a friendlier reception in the 2010 Legislature for such protections statewide.

Even an LDS apostle — continuing the string of stunners –thinks Salt Lake City’s ordinances could be a model.

‘Anything good is shareable,’ Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in an interview Wednesday, referring to Salt Lake City’s new policy aimed at protecting gay and transgender residents from discrimination.

He praised the efforts of Mormon officials and gay-rights leaders who sat down to discuss the issue before the church’s endorsement.

‘Everybody ought to have the freedom to frame the statutes the way they want,’ he said. ‘But at least the process and the good will and working at it, certainly that could be modeled anywhere and even elements of the statute.’

At a public hearing Tuesday, church spokesman Michael Otterson expressed strong support for ordinances that, starting in April, will ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. Salt Lake City, home to the worldwide faith’s headquarters, approved the statutes in a unanimous City Council vote.

It marked the first time the church has endorsed specific, pro-gay legislation.…

Last year, Equality Utah launched the Common Ground Initiative, arguing that even those who disagree on gay marriage can agree on things like making it illegal to fire someone for being gay or providing health-care safeguards to same-sex couples. The bills were modeled after rights the LDS Church said it did not oppose. But Mormon officials snubbed an invitation to join the campaign. All three bills fizzled in the 2009 session.

At least one of the measures is poised for a 2010 comeback: an anti-discrimination statute that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s fair employment law. The bill includes the same exemption for religious organizations and their affiliates that Otterson praised in Salt Lake City’s ordinances.

That means the capital’s new rules, prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers, homebuyers and renters, do not apply to churches or small businesses. The LDS Church and its wholly owned subsidiaries, such as the towering City Creek Center condos taking shape in downtown Salt Lake City, are exempt.

Rep. Christine Johnson, the Salt Lake City Democrat who plans to float the state anti-discrimination bill for a third time in 2010, said she feels ‘immensely grateful’ to the LDS Church for its ‘fair and compassionate’ stand on the city ordinances.…

Would the LDS Church endorse similar anti-discrimination measures for Utah?

‘The church would reserve judgment,’ LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said via e-mail Wednesday. ‘We are not prepared to speculate on something we haven’t seen.’…

On Wednesday, Gayle Ruzicka, leader of the Eagle Forum, said Salt Lake City’s new ordinances are ‘very discriminatory.’

‘We expected the church not to have a problem because they’ve been carved out of it. The rest of us have not been carved out of it,’ she said. The ordinances ‘discriminate against people who have personal religious beliefs.’…” (Rosemary Winters and Peggy Fletcher Stack, “LDS apostle: SLC gay-rights measures could work for state,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 12, 2009)


“Attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in quiet discussions with leaders of Utah’s gay and lesbian community, trying to hammer out language for a statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination that the church could support.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, opened a bill file on Thursday — the last day to request attorneys draft legislation — titled Housing and Employment Amendments and will sponsor the legislation should an agreement be reached.

If the LDS Church, the state’s largest faith to which nearly 90 percent of the Utah Legislature belongs, were to endorse the anti-discrimination bill, it would be a major boost for efforts to pass the legislation, which has failed the past several years.…

Brandie Balken, executive director of the group Equality Utah, would not comment specifically on the discussions with the church, given their sensitive nature.

‘We have been working with many community partners, but we’re not ready to release a bill,’ she said. The talks have been going on for eight months and she assured that a bill would be introduced, hopefully next week, but she said the groups will ‘take the time necessary to work on the language until we have the best possible bill.’

Scott Trotter, a spokesman for the LDS Church, said the church has been contacted as ‘one of many community stakeholders.’

‘The discussions are very preliminary. At this point there is no bill for anyone to respond to,’ he said.…

Last year, Utah businesses made a major push to pass the ban on housing and employment discrimination, but the bill was voted down by a Senate committee. This year, the business community, through the Salt Lake Chamber, has again made it one of its legislative priorities.…

[Gayle Ruzicka] ‘If the law looked like the Salt Lake [City] ordinance, that would be very, very upsetting and something that, as always, I have opposed and will continue to oppose in every way possible unless I get some kind of revelation,’ she said.…

Paul Mero, president of The Sutherland Institute, a conservative think-tank, said discussions about an anti-discrimination law have been going on for years, and said that the church’s representative and attorney on Capitol Hill keep ‘ shooting the request up to the Quorum of The Twelve and First Presidency, trying to get them to agree to this.’

So far, Mero said, his understanding is church leaders are not all in agreement, and the LGBT groups may have to give up too much to get the church’s support.

Mero said one of the sticking points is whether churches as institutions should be exempt from the discrimination ban, or if adherents to the faith should be, as well. Giving followers of the faith an exemption guts the bill.

Whatever the final bill looks like, Mero said his group will fight against it.…” (Robert Gehrke, “Mormon church in talks on statewide law to protect gays from bias,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 7, 2013)


“Reports that attorneys for the LDS Church are meeting with representatives of Utah’s gay and lesbian community raise the welcome possibility that the church will put its weight behind a proposed statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.…

Given the Legislature’s antipathy toward the LGBT community, only the LDS Church’s imprimatur could wring approval of a statewide ban from a body that is around 90 percent Mormon.…

While continuing to defend Prop 8 in a case pending before the Supreme Court, the church has reached out to gay and lesbian Mormons in significant ways: acknowledging a biological basis for same-sex attraction and extending full fellowship to any gay member endeavoring to live a single, celibate life.…” (Editorial Board, “A Helping Hand: LDS Should Support Equal Rights,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 18, 2013)


“A Utah Senate committee voted to move a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance to a vote by the full Utah Senate. The Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted to approve the bill in a 4-3 vote.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steven Urquhart, R-St. George, and faced strict opposition from two of the largest lobbying groups in the state — Utah Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute.…

Paul Mero, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, called the bill a ‘public relations’ stunt and said the bill would not stand up on its own merits.

‘The legislative politics of nondiscrimination has more twists and turns than a daytime soap opera. But we’re policy people and it’s difficult to advise on public relations,’ Mero said.  ’After five or six years of hearing this bill, and every year the bill is rejected, I’m sure the proponents might be a little frustrated. But when you can’t win on its merits, all that’s left is to ask legislators, ‘Pretty please?’’…

Michael Weinholtz, CEO of CHG Healthcare, said his company cannot attract the best talent while discrimination is still legal in the state.…

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said he could not support the bill because he believes homosexuality is immoral and passing the bill would condone the activity.…

The committee heard testimony from six people who opposed the bill and six who supported it. The bill will move to the Senate floor for a full vote. If passed, it will need approval from the Utah House and governor before becoming law.” (“Utah Senate committee passes statewide anti-bias bill,” Q Salt Lake, March 7, 2013)


“A proposed statewide non-discrimination law ran into expected opposition in the state Senate and won’t be debated before the gavel comes down on the Utah Legislature on Thursday night.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart said he had ‘great conversations’ with his colleagues about the bill but they are ‘just wondering if they can bring themselves to vote for it.’

In the end, the St. George Republican said he doesn’t have the votes to pass SB262 this year.…

Urquhart said he intends to bring the bill back next year.…

The Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted 4-3 last week to advance the measure to the full Senate, with two Republicans and two Democrats voting in favor.

Proponents of the proposed law celebrated the vote as a historic moment in Utah. The bill has advanced further than similar measures proposed the past five years.…

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Thursday saying it has not taken a position on SB262.

‘The church is on the record supporting non-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian citizens related to housing and employment,’ said LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy. ‘We also believe that any legislation should protect these rights while also preserving the rights of religious conscience — to act in accordance with deeply held religious beliefs — for individuals and organizations.’…” (Dennis Romboy, “Proposed non-discrimination law won’t be heard on Senate floor,” Deseret News, March 11, 2013)


“Much has been said of late regarding LDS Church involvement in our social and political affairs. Seemingly, this came to head with their overt involvement in California’s ‘Proposition 8’ marriage equality debate, when they suffered from negative national press. In fact, many observers have argued that the backlash over their involvement in that campaign has prompted the LDS Church to adopt a softer stance, which has since helped marriage equality measures in other states.

If you live in Utah, however, it isn’t hard to see that the Mormons have not softened at all, they’ve merely changed tactics to a much more subtle, and more dangerous, type of involvement. Two recent events signify this new strategy and the problem we face as equality activists in Utah.

The first instance of their more subtle approach occurred on Jan. 29, 2013, when LDS attorney Von Keetch filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in defense of Proposition 8. The brief, however, was not filed solely on behalf of the LDS Church, their name was buried among a list of other, smaller faith groups. This document is filled with the same oppressive arguments and bogus social-history claims that have been the hallmark of LDS opposition to marriage equality since the inception of this debate. Instead of continuing their losing campaign in the public arena, they’ve changed battlegrounds to one wherein the public scrutiny is less intense, but the stakes are much, much higher.

The second instance was localized here in Utah, during the 2013 General Session of the Utah State Legislature. As in previous sessions, Equality Utah prioritized a bill that would prohibit housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Reports surfaced that EU was involved in negotiations with various ‘stakeholders,’ including the LDS Church, and that the bill would be released once the final language was agreed upon by all stakeholders. The bill was to be sponsored by a prominent LDS state senator, Curt Bramble.  Bramble, historically one of Utah’s most conservative Republican legislators, remarked to the media that he would bring the bill forward if the LDS Church approved the final language.

As the 45-day general session dragged on with no bill released, some observers starting to worry. The community was constantly assured by Equality Utah’s Executive Director, Brandie Balken, that the bill was coming, they were just working diligently to make sure they ‘got it right,’ which is Utah political doublespeak for ‘Mormon-approved.’ This approval never came, Bramble backed out, and the bill was released near the end of the session through a new sponsor, Southern Utah Republican Steven Urquhart.

For the first time in history, after years of attempts, the bill was passed favorably out of the Utah Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. Utah’s LGBT community celebrated this victory, but it was short-lived. The bill cleared committee with just a week left in the session, and with internal vote counts predicting failure, the sponsors pulled the bill without it ever being debated on the floor of the senate. Throughout the process none of the bill’s sponsors or advocates would acknowledge the role of the LDS Church, but Senator Bramble’s earlier remarks put it into focus: The Church would not approve the language. Negotiations were allowed to drag on to such an extent that the bill timed out at the end of the session. Another victim of church-state politics in Utah.

Yet the strategy of Utah’s LGBT advocates is to continue negotiating behind closed doors of Utah’s capitol and to avoid any statements or actions that might arouse the ire of the LDS Church. That is the strategy of a bygone age, and one that only serves to reinforce the perceived power of the LDS Church. They are losing this battle in the realm of public opinion, which is why we can’t afford to let them switch battlefields.…” (“Empowering our persecution,” Q Salt Lake, June 21, 2013)


“Despite overwhelming public support and a ‘blue note campaign’ pleading with Utah legislative leaders to allow Senate Bill 100, which would expand existing anti-discrimination law to include LGBT citizens, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R-Sandy) said in a press conference this morning that he will not allow the bill to move forward this legislative session.…

Utah House and the Senate leaders decided early in the session not to hear any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender-related bills for fear that rhetoric on both sides of the issue may affect the pending appeal of the Dec. 20 ruling by Judge Robert Shelby striking down the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told House and Senate Republicans in a closed-door session that if any LGBT-related bills receive a public testimony, it was “inevitable that some lawmaker or member of the public would say something offensive: and could damage the state’s case.

Niederhauser said the high emotion behind the bills made leadership decide not to hear them during the appeal.…” (“Niederhauser: Sorry for the tweet, but no-go on SB100 anti-discrimination bill,” Q Salt Lake, February 3, 2014)


“Late Friday night, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (more commonly known as the Mormon Church) posted an announcement to its website reiterating the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, but says it now fully supports non-discrimination laws that outlaw discrimination in employment and housing against LGBTQ people.

‘Church leaders recognize the existence and difficulty of same gender attraction and acknowledge the difference between having same-sex attraction and acting on it. They censure only the latter, and leaders strongly advocate for understanding, inclusion, and kindness toward people of all gender orientations. The Church website mormonsandgays.org details sincere outreach by the Church within the gay community, including support in Utah for nondiscrimination protections of employment and housing. There is room for compassion, common ground, and shared humanity among people who disagree, and Church leaders eagerly pursue these ideals, both inside and outside the Church.’…”

(Eric Ethington, “Breaking: Mormon Church Announces Endorsement Of Housing, Employment Protections For LGBT People,” www.TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com, December 20, 2014)


“The Mormon Church has once again walked back a major statement on LGBT civil rights.

Less than 24 hours after releasing a statement on their website saying the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) supported workplace and housing protections for LGBTQ Utahns, church officials have altered that statement to limit the support to a local Salt Lake City ordinance passed in 2009.

Originally, the statement read ‘The Church website mormonsandgays.org details sincere outreach by the Church within the gay community, including support in Utah for nondiscrimination protections of employment and housing. There is room for compassion, common ground, and shared humanity among people who disagree, and Church leaders eagerly pursue these ideals, both inside and outside the Church.’

That statement was altered today on their website to read ‘The Church website mormonsandgays.org details sincere outreach by the Church within the gay community, including support in Salt Lake City in 2009 for nondiscrimination protections of employment and housing.’

Since publicly supporting the local ordinance in 2009, the Mormon Church has declined to publicly comment on whether or not it supports a statewide law banning housing or employment discrimination against LGBTQ people.

In a written statement, church spokesperson Eric Hawkins said tonight that ‘The reference to non-discrimination ordinances was meant to reflect the church’s support for the 2009 Salt Lake ordinance and is not an announcement of any kind. The Church has been clear that its support of this specific ordinance was due to language that attempted to balance issues of non-discrimination and religious freedom.’” (Eric Ethington, “Mormon Church Walks Back Statement Of Support For Non-Discrimination Laws,” www.TheNewCivilRightsMovement.com, December 21, 2014)


“The LDS Church issued a statement Sunday that it has not changed its position on legislation that protects gays from discrimination in housing and employment.

On Friday, a draft of a new version of Mormon.org, beta.mormon.org, went live on the Internet and included a statement about nondiscrimination ordinances that some interpreted as a new announcement of support from the church for nondiscrimination ordinances.

“The reference to non-discrimination ordinances was meant to reflect the church’s support for the 2009 Salt Lake ordinance and is not an announcement of any kind,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said. “The church has been clear that its support of this specific ordinance was due to language that attempted to balance issues of non-discrimination and religious freedom.

“This clarification has now been made to the page in question. This is a beta site and is not a final product. Additional edits and changes are possible before it reaches final completion.”

In 2009, the LDS Church supported a housing and employment nondiscrimination ordinance in Salt Lake City. The City Council approved the ordinance, which provided protections for religious liberties.

The church’s statement reaffirmed its support for such legislation where religious liberty protections are included.

Some expected Utah legislators to pass a statewide nondiscrimination law in the wake of the 2009 Salt Lake City ordinance, but they have not.

During the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, introduced a bill to amend Utah’s laws to protect gays from discrimination in housing and employment. The bill didn’t get a hearing due to concerns it would negatively impact the defense of Utah’s gay marriage ban.

Urquhart plans to reintroduce the bill next month in the 2015 legislative session now that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the Utah case, making gay marriage legal in the state.

The measure had reached a committee hearing in 2013.

Urquhart’s bill would make it illegal to deny employment or housing to a person based on sexual orientation or gender. Exemptions are allowed for religiously affiliated businesses and housing.” (Tad Walch, “LDS Church clarifies position on nondiscrimination legislation,” Deseret News, December 21, 2014)


“This is a transcript of a news conference held January 27, 2015 that included three members of the governing Twelve Apostles and one woman leader of the Church. Leaders called for a ‘fairness for all’ approach that balances religious freedom protections with reasonable safeguards for LGBT people — specifically in areas of housing, employment and public transportation, which are not available in many parts of the country.…

[Dallin Oaks] Meanwhile, those who seek the protection of religious conscience and expression and the free exercise of their religion look with alarm at the steady erosion of treasured freedoms that are guaranteed in the United States Constitution. Since 1791 the guarantees of religious freedom embodied in the First Amendment have assured all citizens that they may hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs so long as such actions do not endanger public health or safety. This is one of America’s most cherished and defining freedoms. Yet today we see new examples of attacks on religious freedom with increasing frequency. Among them are these:

  • In the state of California, two-dozen Christian student groups have been denied recognition because they require their own leaders to share their Christian beliefs. The university system is forcing these groups to compromise their religious conscience if they want recognition for their clubs. 
  • Recently in one of America’s largest cities, government lawyers subpoenaed the sermons and notes of pastors who opposed parts of a new law on religious grounds. These pastors faced not only intimidation, but also criminal prosecution for insisting that a new gay rights ordinance should be put to a vote of the people.
  • Several years ago, an Olympic gold-medal gymnast—a Latter-day Saint, as it happened—had been selected to lead the American delegation to the Olympic Games. He was pressured to resign as the symbolic head of the team because gay rights advocates protested that he had supported Proposition 8 in California. Ironically, he was denied the same freedom of conscience that commentators demanded for the gay athletes he would symbolically represent.   
  • More recently, the head of a large American corporation was forced to resign from his position in a similar well-publicized backlash to his personal beliefs. 

Sadly, the list is expanding. Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate. When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser. Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender. Churches should stand on at least as strong a footing as any other entity when they enter the public square to participate in public policy debates.

It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals. The precious constitutional right of free speech does not exclude any individual or group, and a society is only truly free when it respects freedom of religious exercise, conscience and expression for everyone, including unpopular minorities. 

Today, state legislatures across the nation are being asked to strengthen laws related to LGBT issues in the interest of ensuring fair access to housing and employment. The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on record as favoring such measures. At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect faith communities and individuals against discrimination and retaliation for claiming the core rights of free expression and religious practice that are at the heart of our identity as a nation and our legacy as citizens.…

[Jeffrey Holland] Church-owned businesses or entities that are directly related to the purposes and functions of the church must have the same latitude in employment standards and practices as the church itself.…

In addition to institutional protections, individual people of faith must maintain their constitutional rights. This would include living in accordance with their deeply held religious beliefs, including choosing their profession or employment or serving in public office without intimidation, coercion or retaliation from another group. For example, a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so, especially when others are readily available to perform that function. As another example, a neighborhood Catholic pharmacist, who declines to carry the ‘morning after’ pill when large pharmacy chains readily offer that item, should likewise not be pressured into violating his or her conscience by bullying or boycotting.…” (“Transcript of News Conference on Religious Freedom and Nondiscrimination,” LDS Newsroom, January 27, 2015)


“LGBT advocates had mixed reactions to the announcement.…

‘As a matter of policy, there’s no “there” there,’ said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. ‘The so-called religious exemption is the size of five Mack trucks. It entirely neuters their proposal.’ However, that doesn’t mean the announcement won’t impact the topic, he said. ‘In the relationship … between Mormon families and their LGBT children and LGBT friends, I have no doubt that this will be deeply meaningful.… From the perspective of symbolism, this is a step forward in the continued acceptance of LGBT people by the church.’

But Jim Dabakis, a gay, married Utah state senator who was involved in talks with church leaders in recent years, has a different take.

‘As long as: “It’s the whole enchilada or nothing,” as long as you’re using rhetoric to rev up your base … and not involved in saying: “Let’s find that common ground,” when you find that kind of good will, like the church has … it’s a golden moment and that’s where we need to be going in America,’ he said Tuesday.…

Dabakis said talks began in 2009.  Before then, he said of church leaders and LGBT advocates, ‘we shared the same air but could not communicate. Breaking those blocks down was one of the great experiences of my life.’” (Michelle Boorstein, “Mormon church announced support for legal protections for gay people,” Washington Post, January 27, 2015)


“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a rare news conference in Salt Lake City today that is drawing headlines about a supposedly new, accommodating stand on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

The Mormon Church is now willing, news accounts says, to support anti-discrimination legislation in the realms of housing and employment. In return, all the Mormons want are laws that ‘protect religious freedom.’

We already have that. It’s called the Bill of Rights. So what is the church really after?

The news conference, said D. Todd Cristofferson, one of the 12 apostles of the church, was held to raise concerns about ‘the increasing tensions and polarization between advocates of religious freedom on the one hand and advocates of gay rights on the other.’ Another apostle, Jeffrey R. Holland, said church leaders were calling for ‘laws that protect faith communities and individuals’ against unfair treatment.

That’s fake ‘war on religion’ speak. What they want is legal permission to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate.

The Associated Press explained: ‘Mormon leaders still want to hire and fire workers based not only on religious beliefs, but also on behavior standards known as honor codes that require gays and lesbians to remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. The church also wants legal protections for religious objectors who work in government and health care, such as a physician who refuses to perform an abortion, or provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple.’

Substitute the word ‘black’ or ‘Jewish’ or ‘Catholic’ or, say, ‘Mormon’ for LGBT in these statements, and everyone would be outraged.

Or, as Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBT rights, put it: ‘All Americans should have the right to be employed, receive housing and services in environments free of discrimination. We await the day the church embraces that fully, without any exceptions or exemptions.’

The church’s ‘new’ position looks like an outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, in which a 5-4 majority said the owner of a closely held business could refuse to comply with a federal law (in that case, the Affordable Care Act) on the basis of his personal religious views.

Apparently the news conference today was the product of five years’ behind-the-scenes negotiations. Five years for this?” (Andrew Rosenthal, “Mormon Church Wants Freedom to Discriminate,” New York Times, January 27, 2015)


“There was little question that the LDS Church announcement was a game changer.

‘It drives a lot of what we do in the session when you have an announcement like that,’ said House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper. ‘Religious liberty is an issue we’d better take very seriously. The anti-discrimination component, we heard today.’…” (Robert Gehrke, “With LDS announcement, is anti-discrimination bill now a slam-dunk?” Salt Lake Tribune, January 27, 2015)


“In the past few years, Mormonism has toned down its language about homosexuality from a debate about sin and causality to embracing notions of empathy and understanding.…

When asked in an interview if the Utah-based faith would apologize for its harsh rhetoric of the past, LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson said, ‘The doctrines, values and beliefs all related to this haven’t changed and won’t, but I think we can express things better.’…

Not that many in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know about the site, Christofferson acknowledged, despite numerous news stories about it.

‘It has been underutilized,’ he said.

But the church is working on ‘refreshing and expanding the site in the next few months,’ he said, and the updated version will be more broadly advertised.

The hope is that LGBT Mormons will feel valued by their religious community, he said, ‘so they don’t feel they have to find fulfillment elsewhere, or that they can’t find love, brotherhood and sisterhood within the church.’

What does the LDS Church think of members who back same-sex marriage?

‘There hasn’t been any litmus test or standard imposed that you couldn’t support that if you want to support it,’ Christofferson said, ‘if that’s your belief and you think it’s right.’

Any Latter-day Saint can have a belief ‘on either side of this issue,’ he said. ‘That’s not uncommon.’

Problems arise only when a member makes ‘a public, sustained opposition to the church itself or the church leaders and tries to draw others after them,’ he said, and that support swells into ‘advocacy.’

Fellow apostle Dallin H. Oaks also praised the church’s website and efforts on behalf of gay members.

But Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, wasn’t sure apologizing for past language on homosexuality would be advisable.

‘I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,’ Oaks said in an interview. ‘We sometimes look back on issues and say, ‘Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,’ but we look forward and not backward.’

The church doesn’t ‘seek apologies,’ he said, ‘and we don’t give them.’…” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “We all can be more civil on LGBT issues, Mormon leader says,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 27, 2015)


“’As a matter of public policy, it appears deeply flawed,’ said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.  Doctors, landlords and business owners would still be allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians, as long as they cited a religious reason, she said.…” (Daniel Burke, “Mormon church backs LGBT rights—with one condition,” CNN.com, January 27, 2015)


“The church is promising to support some housing and job protections for gays and lesbians in exchange for legal protections for believers who object to the behavior of others.…

Mormon leaders still want to be able to hire and fire workers based not only on religious beliefs, but also on behavior standards known as honor codes. Gays and lesbians would have to agree to remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. The church also wants legal protections for religious objectors who work in government and health care, such as a physician who refuses to perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple.

Accommodations for religious objectors have factored into every state legislative debate over gay rights. But political pressure on rights groups to make concessions to religious conservatives is plummeting as support for same-sex marriage grows around the country.…” (Associated Press, “Mormon leaders call for measures protecting gay rights,” January 27, 2015)


“Such proposals have been bottled up in the Legislature for years — despite the church’s historic endorsement of similar protections in Salt Lake City ordinances in 2009.…

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, who is sponsoring legislation to protect religious individuals’ ability to refuse to marry same-sex couples, is not so sure that passage is a sure bet.

‘I still think House leadership is going to weigh the church’s announcement and make a decision in the best interest of the Senate, the House and all of Utah,’ he said. ‘It certainly is an argument for moving [the religious-liberty bills] forward, and it removes any question of whether the church would stand in the way or remain silent.’…

Until now, the LDS Church had largely been on the sidelines of the debate over discrimination protection — notwithstanding its high-profile support of the Salt Lake City measures. There were concerns, in particular, about how such a law might require same-sex couples to share student housing at church-owned Brigham Young University.

Urquhart said those concerns have been thoroughly addressed, and BYU housing is protected.…” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “In major move, Mormon apostles call for statewide LGBT protections,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 27, 2015)


“The pledge Tuesday by the Mormon Church to oppose housing and job discrimination against gays follows years of piercing church losses in California over gay rights, including one last week.

The church opposed a new rule to bar California judges from becoming leaders in the Boy Scouts of America because the organization prohibits gays from being Scout leaders.

In letter after letter to the California Supreme Court, Mormons complained the policy would interfere with Mormon judges’ freedom of religion. The church sponsors Boy Scout troops and members are assigned leadership positions as part of their religious duties.…

The church was caught off guard by the fury Proposition 8 provoked.

‘Ever since then, they have tried to be clear that with the exception of same-sex marriage, they support the full range of civil rights for all citizens,’ said Patrick Mason, director of the Mormon studies program at Claremont Graduate University.

Some gay rights leaders were not convinced of the church’s sincerity, but Kate Kendell, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, found the statements history-making.

‘The Mormon Church is in a different place than it was during Prop. 8,’ Kendell said. ‘There is an ongoing campaign to make a very strong course correction from where they were.’” (Maura Dolan and Seema Mehta, “Mormon Church’s shift on gay rights follows series of defeats in California,” Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2015)


“On Tuesday, the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that it now supports protections for the LGBT community in areas like housing and employment. Their position is muddled, however, by rhetoric indicating that these protections must be ‘balanced’ by what the church labels ‘religious freedom’ protections. In fact, it might not be accurate to say the Church supports LGBT protections at all.

It’s difficult to ascertain what’s actually new about the Church’s position — in part because it’s difficult to ascertain what that position actually is. The officials who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference were adamant that homosexuality was still as sinful as ever, so nothing changed there. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson clarified, ‘We are announcing no change in doctrine and church teachings today.’ Support for legislation prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people came with a caveat for ‘religious liberty,’ but the language was excessively vague as to what exactly that caveat should be for the Mormon Church to support a bill. Indeed, based on other remarks made during the press conference, it may be more accurate to conclude the Church supports — or at least turns a blind eye toward — anti-LGBT discrimination as much as it ever has.

‘Religious liberty’ is the very language being used by conservatives to advance legislation across the country that would allow individuals and businesses to legally discriminate against LGBT people based on their religious beliefs. In Michigan last month, for example, Republicans only agreed to consider adding LGBT protections to state laws if a pro-discrimination ‘religious liberty’ bill were considered alongside it. Though none of the bills ultimately passed, it was only the ‘religious liberty’ bill that advanced while the actual protections were abandoned.

At the press conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks provided significant context to indicate that this definition of ‘religious liberty’ — a carve-out license to continue discriminating — is exactly the dog whistle the Church was sounding. His first example was Christian student clubs who demand to receive university funding despite their refusal to honor their schools’ LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. Oaks also portrayed as victims the pastors in Houston, Texas who were subpoenaed specifically for information about their involvement in a petition process to overturn the city’s newly passed LGBT protections. In other words, it was the pro-discrimination pastors who were being persecuted, even as they were working against the very protections the Mormon Church now claims to support.

Oaks also seemed to indicate that laws should somehow even protect individuals who are held accountable in the public square for their anti-gay beliefs. He cited both Peter Vidmar and Brendan Eich as victims of religious persecution, both of whom ultimately resigned from symbolic public positions because of outcry over their support for California’s Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriage that infamously received huge financial support from the Mormon Church. Oaks explained, ‘When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment or made to suffer personal loss because they have raised their voice in the public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser.’ In a follow-up interview, Christofferson echoed this sentiment, adding, ‘It’s just as unfair for that to happen as for LGBT individuals to be discriminated against.’

But booing a pro-discrimination position is in no way comparable to actually discriminating. Or, as Scott Bixby characterized it at NewsMic, ‘Bullying is when a stronger person picks on a weaker person, not when the person being picked on tells the teacher.’ What the Mormon Church is actually suggesting with these comments is that supporting discrimination (like Vidmar and Eich undeniably did) deserves as much protection as preventing discrimination. At The Bilerico Project, John Becker called the Church’s quid pro quo request a ‘poison pill’ that should never be accepted in any civil rights legislation. The New York Times’ Andrew Rosenthal didn’t hedge his take at all, concluding, ‘What they want is legal permission to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate.’

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also expressed skepticism at the announcement. In a press release, HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow described the Church’s proposal as ‘deeply flawed,’ referring to Oaks’ example of a doctor who should be free to decline to provide fertility services to a lesbian couple. ‘Nondiscrimination protections only function when they are applied equally,’ she explained.

If there’s any doubt that the Church is concerned about how this announcement is spun, a new ‘additional resource’ attached to the original press release instructs journalistic outlets about how to write their headlines. It seems that too many outlets are over-focusing on the part about supporting LGBT protections. ‘We need to point out,’ the memo reads, ‘that in a few cases the headlines (which typically are not written by the reporter) are misleading readers and viewers by omitting the religious freedom element of the announcement, which is at its core.’ Almost every headline it recommends includes the word ‘balance,’ as in a ‘balance of gay and religious rights.’

What’s also suspicious is how the Church accidentally made this same announcement a month ago, then walked it back. A statement was posted on the website MormonsAndGays.org that referred to the Church’s ‘support in Utah for nondiscrimination protections of employment and housing.’ The following day, the statement was modified to clarify that it was only referring to that one time in 2009 when it supported a local ordinance in Salt Lake City. That ordinance, as the Church acknowledged in its endorsement, included exemptions for religious organizations and universities. In other words, in a city where the Mormon Church controls most of the city’s industry, the Mormon Church supported a gay rights ordinance that the Mormon Church wouldn’t even have to follow. If anything, Tuesday’s press conference seemed like an attempt to spin that hollow endorsement, just with better media coverage.” (Zack Ford, “Despite Its Announcement, The Mormon Church Hasn’t Actually Done Anything For LGBT Equality,” ThinkProgress.org, January 28, 2015)


“The Mormon church punked the national press yesterday by calling a press conference purportedly about their support of some basic rights for LGBTQ people. The press conference was, in fact, mostly about defending Mormons’ right to discriminate.

Major news organizations led with headlines claiming the Mormon church had come out in favor of LGBTQ rights.

The New York Times: ‘Mormon Leaders Call for Measures Protecting Gay Rights.’

ABC: ‘Mormon Leaders Call for Measures Protecting Gay Rights.’

CNN: ‘Mormon church backs LGBT rights — with one condition.’

But if you go to the Mormon church’s own website, what you’ll find is a news release titled ‘Mormon Leaders Call for Laws That Protect Religious Freedom.’ The Mormon church’s latest maneuver is not about gay rights. It is primarily about giving believers the right to discriminate.

The new Mormon position is like that candy with a razor blade inside that your mom warned you about on Halloween. While calling for LGBTQ people to be protected from those who hate them for non-religious reasons (and who are those people, anyway?), they have hidden their real agenda, which is to legalize such discrimination by anyone who claims their prejudice is backed by faith.…

The key moment in Mr. Oaks’ speech comes when he claims, ‘Churches should stand on at least as strong a footing as any other entity when they enter the public sphere to participate in public policy debates.’ At least as strong? Why does Mr. Oaks think that religions should enjoy more influence than other entities? He wants special privileges and special rights for churches and for religious people. The painful irony? He is demanding something gay people have long been accused of seeking: special rights. The LGBTQ movement only demands equal rights. We want to be treated fairly. It is the religious people in this country who demand special treatment, who receive special treatment, and it is profoundly inappropriate.

If these Mormon leaders were true disciples of Jesus, they would hold a press conference tomorrow and complain about the Pharisees in their ranks. They would apologize for the hatred and intolerance that their church has shown gay people for decades. They would apologize in tears, remembering all the LGBTQ Mormons who have taken their lives because of the bigotry their church fostered. And they would unconditionally endorse legislation that protects gay people from discrimination, especially from religious people. 

Don’t believe for one second that the LDS church this morning showed compassion or humanity. They’re just trying to codify their right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.” (Brooke P. Hunter, “How the Mormons Punked the Press,” Huffington Post, January 28, 2015)


“I have to say I am pretty cynical about this press conference. I think it is simply a way to get out in front of the inevitable Supreme Court ruling that will culminate in constitutional protection for LGBT people in housing, etc. So the Church is doing little more on that front than will be required at some point—and they came out years ago in favor of a similar SLC ordinance, so why all the hoopla?

What the news conference was really about was the Church trying to protect its own right to discriminate.

I have no problem with the Church’s right to refuse to marry gay people in the temple (for example), but this sort of right is already guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. I do have a problem with a doctor, who offers artificial insemination services to everyone else, refusing to artificially inseminate a married lesbian woman because he is a Mormon and disapproves of same-sex marriage. I also have a problem if the Church wants to fire a gardener because he is in a same-sex relationship.” (Morris Thurston to Patrick Mason, January 28, 2015)

“I agree with you completely on all counts. The Church wants to wrap itself in the mantel of non- discrimination while seeking at the very same moment to use the shield of religious liberty to protect its right to discriminate! It’s too cute, and it won’t work any better than our century-long discrimination against blacks worked. Years from now, the Church will likely be required to issue a mea culpa on this civil rights issue just as it did on the racial issue. One would hope we would learn a little better from our own history.” (Brent Rushforth to Morris Thurston, January 28, 2015)


“Here’s a simple algebra equation to describe what it’s like to grow up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Take the year, subtract 20, and that’s the year it really is inside the Mormon gerontocracy.

When I was a child, I was told that black people couldn’t hold leadership positions until 1978 because it ‘just wasn’t their time yet.’ To explain their opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, my parents cited some paranoid logic about unisex bathrooms. I had left my family’s faith by the time church members were supporting California’s Proposition 8 to the tune of $20 million, but I still remember some ominous rumblings about the specter of legally mandated same-sex weddings being held in Mormon chapels. The horror.

So when I learned yesterday that the Mormon Church is now provisionally supporting some LGBT legal protections, I closed my eyes, counted backward to 1995 and watched the press conference.

Let’s start with what the announcement is not. Mormon Apostle D. Todd Christofferson made it perfectly clear from the beginning: ‘We are announcing no change in doctrine and church teachings today.’

The Mormon Church is still firm in its opposition to same-sex marriage, they are still targeting Mormon dissident and same-sex marriage supporter John Dehlin with excommunication, and they still require their gay, lesbian, and bisexual members—or, in their parlance, members who ‘struggle with same-sex attraction’—to refrain from all forms of same-sex sexual intimacy. The church’s measured support of non-discrimination ordinances is by no means a step forward in terms of LGBT inclusion within the faith itself.

Nor is the church’s support of non-discrimination ordinances entirely new. In 2009, Mormon leaders put their weight behind a Salt Lake City non-discrimination ordinance, but only because it ‘balance[d] fair housing and employment rights with the religious rights of the community.’ The only news here is that the church is expanding this conditional support of LGBT protections ‘throughout Utah and the nation as long as there [is] a balanced approach to protect constitutional religious exercise and conscience.’

These recurring disclaimers about religious freedom reveal this announcement for what it really is: a craven bid to hang on to as much power as possible before full LGBT equality becomes a political and cultural reality. Now that the Mormon Church seems more or less resigned to the impending probability of nationwide same-sex marriage, this renewed focus on discrimination under the guise of religious freedom is the only thing they have left and by God, Jesus, and Joseph Smith, are they going to white-knuckle it.

In fact, this move is exactly the sort of bait-and-switch I learned as a Mormon child: Pledge basic support for the humane treatment of the marginalized while supporting their exclusion through every other means possible.

Indeed, the Mormon leaders who participated in yesterday’s press conference spent much less time detailing their support of LGBT protections than they did decrying what they see as ‘the steady erosion of treasured freedoms’ pertaining to matters of ‘religious conscience.’ The official press release pledges support for ‘reasonable safeguards for LGBT people—specifically in areas of housing, employment and public transportation’ so long as these safeguards are balanced with ‘religious freedom protections.’ But at no point during the prepared portion of the press conference did Mormon leaders offer specific illustrative examples of anti-LGBT discrimination, acknowledge their own history of anti-LGBT policy, or even utter aloud the words ‘bisexual’ and ‘transgender.’ The token female speaker—Sister Neill F. Marriott, whose speech patterns make Joni Ernst seem like Celine Dion by comparison—even chimed in with a hearty ‘homosexuals.’ Remember: It’s still 1995.

The announcement yesterday was, first and foremost, an excuse to complain about the increasing pushback that public figures and businesses face when they make a bigoted remark or explicitly support the discrimination of LGBT people. In the span of 15 minutes, Mormon apostles Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland managed to work in references to the ousting of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, the withdrawal of state funding for Christian clubs at California schools that exclude gay students, and the pressure put on Mormon gymnast Peter Vidmar to decline his place as the U.S. chef de mission in the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies after he participated in anti-same-sex marriage demonstrations.

Not only does the Mormon Church have the gall to present these stories as if they represent the end of ‘free speech’ as we know it—it’s clear that they need to spend less time reading their scriptures and more time reading the Constitution—they also go a step further by equating them with the widespread, institutional discrimination of LGBT people. Oaks boldly asserts that ‘[s]uch tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing, or public services because of race or gender’ before adding this petty and fallacious swipe: ‘It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public-policy proposals.’

Here’s another equation that Mormons should take to heart: Not tolerating intolerance is not the same thing as intolerance itself.

But Oaks can’t afford to be too mean to LGBT people because the church’s ‘fairness for all’ approach is, oddly enough, an attempt to couple the possibility of anti-LGBT discrimination to LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances themselves. Twenty years ago, when the Mormon Church’s politics aligned more closely with America’s center, they were in power and LGBT people were on the ropes. But now, the Mormons want it to be 1995 again so badly that they’re willing to throw their hat in with the in-vogue LGBT community as long as they can still refuse to, say, make their wedding cakes. When I was younger, church leaders wouldn’t be caught dead using a word like ‘minority’ to refer to themselves but in yesterday’s presser, Oaks was more than willing to implicitly refer to both Mormons and LGBT people as ‘unpopular minorities.’ You know what they say: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and then try to undermine them every step of the way.

The Mormon Church has already proved that it’s not above co-opting a civil-rights framework to get what they want. At this point, they have a track record of hiding behind the language of civil-rights movements in order to assert their right to discriminate on religious grounds. In a 2009 speech delivered at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Oaks compared the vandalism of some church facilities after the passage of Proposition 8 to ‘the well-known and widely condemned voter intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.’ I’m not sure they make equivalences any falser than that one.

And speaking of civil rights legislation, here’s a story about the Mormon Church’s historic stance on that issue: According to Glen W. Davidson’s 1965 article in the Christian Century, a local chapter of the NAACP finally secured a meeting with top church leaders in 1965, who reluctantly agreed to write an editorial—albeit an unsigned one—in support of an employment and housing bill. They never wrote the editorial. Instead, one Mormon apostle said: ‘We have decided to remain silent.’ But they can certainly speak up forty years later when they have the opportunity to compare broken windows to the systemic discrimination of an entire race.

Coming from the Mormon Church, a half-hearted and conditional support for LGBT rights isn’t just too little, too late—it’s business as usual. Trading shelter and employment for the right to discriminate on religious grounds is a devil’s bargain coming from men who believe they speak for God. This isn’t a ‘fairness for all’ approach—it’s a mean older sibling drawing a chalk line down the middle of the room. And what we’re witnessing now is not a slow step forward but rather Mormon bigotry in its death throes, as the church tries in vain to ride the legal coattails of the very people they have been putting down for so long.” (Samantha Allen, “The Mormon Church’s Gay Rights Charade,” TheDailyBeast.com, January 28, 2015)


“Utah state Sen. Stephen Urquhart (R) was given a heads-up two hours before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s news conference Tuesday on religious freedom and nondiscrimination. What church representatives told him in a meeting was broad — just five bullet points about what would be covered — but it reaffirmed the rumors lawmakers began hearing Monday night: The Church would come out in favor of LGBT nondiscrimination legislation.

‘This is a tectonic shift,’ Urquhart said.…

A 2012 survey for the book ‘Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics’ found that Mormons were more likely to say they favored nondiscrimination laws if they were told beforehand about a specific statement the Church had given in support of them, as opposed to being told a general statement from the Church, or being told no statement at all. Research also found Mormons historically are most politically persuaded by Church leaders when the leaders are unified on an issue and offer an official endorsement.

The Church has made statements on nondiscrimination ordinances in the past, backing a Salt Lake City measure in 2009 and stating that it didn’t object to LGBT housing and employment protections in 2008 during the Proposition 8 campaign in California. But Tuesday’s news conference was its most direct, involving three members of its Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a specific call for ‘local, state and the federal government’ to pass laws that protect religious freedom and the rights of LGBT citizens in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

‘It’s been frustrating having the Church not clarifying its position’ since 2009, Urquhart said. ‘I think legislators believed they were supporting their religion and their God’ by opposing nondiscrimination measures, he said. ‘Now that changes.’” (Hunter Schwarz, “How much will the Mormon Church’s endorsement of LGBT protections sway Mormon lawmakers?” Washington Post, January 28, 2015)


“All of this canting and whining about the perceived threat to the church’s religious freedom sounds like an adolescent tantrum.  It’s just undignified.   I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  20 nations wherein the LDS church enjoys an official presence have legalized same-gender marriage.  As someone from one of those countries, please let me assure you – it’s fine.  Chill out.…” (Gina Colvin, “On tuning into another LGBT drama in ‘Murica,” www.patheos.com, January 28, 2015)


“Robert Siegel: The church was very much identified with the campaign in California for the proposition that would ban same-sex marriage. Should we infer from the statements made this week that now we’re talking about a very different approach to the entire issue?

Dallin Oaks: I don’t think it’s a different approach. We were really the victims of intimidation and retaliation and boycotts in California. Many of them lost jobs or publicly intimidated and boycotted against the businesses, and we’re pleading that that not be repeated.…” (“Mormon LGBT Announcement Met With Cheers, Skepticism,” All Things Considered – npr.org, January 29, 2015)


“Dear Elder Oaks,

I want an apology.

I’m not gay, but I want an apology to all my gay brothers and sisters in the church. I want an apology for teaching them that they were wicked and don’t deserve to be loved. I want an apology to all the gay men that the church physically tortured in an attempt to ‘cure’ them. I want an apology to those gay men that were told to marry women and not tell them they were gay. I want an apology to all those straight women who were either not told when they married these men, or were led to believe that marriage would ‘fix’ them. I want an apology to all the members for teaching us that our gay brothers and sisters were evil.…” (Anna Maria Junus, “Woman at the Well,” amjunus.blogspot.com, January 29, 2015)


“It is one of today’s great ironies that some people who have fought so hard for LGBT rights now try to deny the rights of others to disagree with their public policy proposals.…” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Advocates Examine Mormon Church’s Stance on LGBT Rights,” www.npr.org, January 29 2015)


“How kind of the leaders, who claim to be representatives of Christ, to say gay people deserve to live and work without fear of being fired or evicted simply because they are gay. How gracious. How benevolent.

But, wait- there is one condition. You see… this was a ‘concession’ they are willing to make *if* we stop bullying them and expand religious liberty so as to allow individual believers to discriminate against LGBT people in the public sphere if they feel it goes against their ‘strongly held religious beliefs.’…

But, what the LDS Church wants in exchange for workplace and housing protections is to expand the exemptions for public accommodation protections that would not only include religious institutions (which, again, are already exempt), but also anyone who is religious who wishes to be exempt from non-discrimination laws based on their ‘strongly held beliefs.’

So what does this mean? It means that any person with any job anywhere can deny service to gay people on the basis of their ‘strongly held religious beliefs.’ Again, lets take the example Elder Holland gave… but let’s simplify it and not use such scary words:

‘A Latter-day Saint baker who objects to gay marriage, should not be forced against his or her conscience to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.’ 


‘A Latter-day Saint nurse who objects to gay parenting, should not be forced against his or her conscience to aid in delivering a lesbian’s child.’

But it doesn’t stop there. In the United States, we protect all religious beliefs equally, so if this call for the expansion of ‘religious liberty’ WAS heard and legislation WAS passed, it would also mean:

‘A member of the KKK (who cites the bible for justification of their bigotry) should not be forced against his or her conscience to serve a Jewish person food at a restaurant.’ 


‘A Jehovah’s Witness doctor who objects to blood transfusions, should not be forced against his or her conscience to recommend blood transfusions to patients.’…

If you sell cakes- the process is the same. You make the cake. You decorate the cake. You sell the cake. How is selling a cake to a gay couple go against your ‘deeply held beliefs’ any more than selling and serving a beer to someone who drinks? It is offensive to me that my old church is continuing to try and place roadblocks in my life. That they would like a world in which a doctor could deny me healthcare services. A world in which a baker can refuse to sell a cake to ‘those gays.’

In the LDS Church people throw around the phrase, ‘you can leave the church, but you can’t leave the church alone.’ My experience has been, ‘you can leave the church, but the church won’t leave you alone.’ How dare the white heterosexual male LDS leadership claim they are the victims. How dare they call the very people they have been trying so hard to prevent from obtaining equal status in our society ‘bullies.’ I have not seen one suicide of a Mormon person because ‘those gays’ just made living so unbearable for them, they couldn’t stand it any longer. I have not heard of one Mormon shaking and crying and praying at night, unable to think of anything but death because ‘those gays’ are getting closer to obtaining full equality. There has not been one single piece of legislation proposed to prevent Mormons from marrying the person they love or from raising children.

Them the victims and us the bullies?? Not tolerating intolerance is not the same as intolerance itself. I will not bow down and thank LDS leadership for allowing me to work and live without fear of being fired or evicted while they try to ensure I can be denied access to public accommodations because, for some reason, treating me like a regular equal human being goes against their ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’ Since when did everyone around you need to accept and follow your beliefs in order for you to treat them fairly. I must have forgotten the rest of that scripture- ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself. Unless they’re a faggot. In that case, feel free to deny them service and send them on their way to find someone who isn’t rightfully offended by their very existence.’…” (Jonathan Adamson, “LDS Leadership Calls for Right to Discriminate Under Guise of ‘Religious Freedom,’” RideTheWindsBack.blogspot.com, January 29, 2915)


“I’d like to address a list of both real events (held up as examples of the erosion of religious freedom) and hypothetical threats to religious freedom.

  • The University of California system is forcing Christian groups to compromise their religious conscience if they want recognition for their clubs.

So, a public, tax-funded University won’t officially recognize and subsidize a club that excludes gays and non-Christians from leadership. Is this an erosion of religious freedom? Well, the group is totally at liberty to remain a private club, unaffiliated with the university. The issue seems to be, do they have a religious freedom to be put on a list of clubs at a public University and receive funds from the University if they discriminate using a religious rubric? This seems to be a case of the erosion of Christian privilege, not religious freedom.

  • Houston city government lawyers subpoenaed the sermons and notes of pastors who opposed parts of a new law on religious grounds. These pastors faced not only intimidation, but also criminal prosecution for insisting that a new gay rights ordinance should be put to a vote of the people.

They were subpoenaed simply because they opposed a law? No, not quite. Sermons and notes were subpoenaed because the city was being sued by a Christian group for throwing out illegal signatures on a petition to repeal the equal rights law. Those 5 pastors were among the organizers who gathered signatures to repeal an equal rights law. The city determined that thousands of the signatures were invalid, because legally the signature had to be ‘accompanied by the printed name, address, voter registration number or date of birth and the date signed; additionally, anyone who collected signatures must also have personally signed the petition, and have appeared before a notary to acknowledge under oath that the signatures were made in their presence.’ Turns out those collecting many of the signatures didn’t follow the legal requirements. In reaction to this, a Christian group filed a suit against the city for throwing out the invalid signatures. In preparation for the upcoming suit, the city lawyers subpoenaed records relating to the petition process. However, the language used in the subpoenas was too broad and led many religious groups to express concern that the government was requesting their sermons. The language of the subpoenas was narrowed to more precisely represent their intentions. The pastors weren’t facing criminal prosecution for insisting that a repeal should be put on the ballot. They weren’t facing criminal prosecution at all (unless they decided to not comply with the law by refusing to give documents related to the repeal petition, all because of the suit filed by Christian groups angry that illegally collected signatures were thrown out).…

  • An Olympic gold-medal gymnast was pressured to resign as the symbolic head of the team because gay rights advocates protested that he had supported Proposition 8 in California.

Peter Vidmar was appointed by the US Olympics Committee as the head of delegation for the 2012 Olympics. His $2,000 dollar donation to Prop 8 led many people to protest the appointment. However, the USOC ‘reaffirmed its faith in Vidmar’ and was willing to proceed despite the protests. I’m not clear on how this is an example of the erosion of religious freedom. If they had appointed someone who donated thousands to legalizing abortion, would you be surprised if there were protests? (especially if the legislation had won) Additionally, this is a person selected to represent our country in the Olympics. I would hope that the public is allowed to voice their opinions on the matter without it being perceived as somehow violating Vidmar’s freedom of religion.

  • Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla in a similar well-publicized backlash to his personal beliefs.

First of all, Eich chose to resign. Second, if he did receive pressure, it was not without reason. Mozilla is founded on an open-source platform, which means that community and collaboration is at the heart of it. Because Eich actively worked to deny people the right to marry, many within the company and collaborators without had a problem with him as CEO. Three board members resigned in response to his appointment (or maybe I should say they were ‘forced to resign’). Executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker more or less articulated what the church leaders did recently regarding the balance of honoring freedom of speech and equality in response to Eich’s resignation. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not mean freedom from criticism. They don’t mean freedom from having public opinion be against those who try to set up and protect discriminatory legislation.…”

(Goeff Nelson, ‘Erosion of Religious Liberty?’ RationalFaiths.com, January 29, 2015)

Also relating to this post are the following articles:

“In a collision between religious freedom and antidiscrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association.

Similar conflicts are playing out on a handful of campuses around the country, driven by the universities’ desire to rid their campuses of bias, particularly against gay men and lesbians, but also, in the eyes of evangelicals, fueled by a discomfort in academia with conservative forms of Christianity. The universities have been emboldened to regulate religious groups by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that found it was constitutional for a public law school in California to deny recognition to a Christian student group that excluded gays.

At Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders.…

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.…

At Cal State, evangelicals are facing a similar conundrum. ‘We’re not willing to water down our beliefs in order to be accepted,’ said Austin Weatherby, 20, a Cal State Chico student. He sometimes leads Bible study, and said he had to agree that he believes in the Holy Trinity and the Resurrection to do so. ‘Anyone can join, but if you want to lead a Bible study, you need to believe these things,’ he said.

Cal State officials insist that they welcome evangelicals, but want them to agree to the same policies as everyone else. ‘Lots of evangelical groups are thriving on our campuses,’ said Susan Westover, a lawyer for the California State University System. However, she said, there will be no exceptions from the antidiscrimination requirements. ‘Our mission is education, not exclusivity,’ she said.…” (Michael Paulson, “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy,” New York Times, June 9, 2014)

“California State University, the largest university system in the country, has officially booted InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for not allowing [NOTE: THEY WERE NOT REQUIRED] non-Christians to serve as leaders.…” (Greg Piper, “Christian Group Banned From California State University System Over Leader Rules,” www.TheCollegeFix.com, September 8, 2014)

“Under pressure from religious groups, Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday said the city is withdrawing subpoenas it had issued to local pastors who had spoken out against an ordinance extending anti-discrimination protections to transgender people.

Lawyers for the city provoked an uproar last month after they demanded copies of sermons and other documents from five leading pastors while seeking to stop an effort to repeal an equal-rights ordinance approved by the Houston City Council in May.… 

The city demanded the information from the pastors after opponents of the ordinance sued Houston for rejecting citizen petitions that were filed in pursuit of a ballot measure seeking to repeal it. It’s not entirely clear, though, how the city intended to use the information it wanted from the pastors to defend its case.…” (Jacob Gershman, “Houston Mayor Retreats on Fight Over Pastor Subpoenas,” Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2014)

“When Peter Vidmar, who won two gold medals in gymnastics in the 1984 Olympics, in was chosen to be the United States chef de mission for next year’s London games, the chairman of the United States Olympic Committee called him a natural leader and an extraordinary individual.

Yet Vidmar, who is been involved with the Olympic movement for more than 20 years, lasted in the role for only eight days. He resigned last Friday after several reports revealed that he had supported initiatives against same-sex marriage. He said he stepped down because he did not want any controversy over his opinions to overshadow the United States team.…

‘I think there are a number of issues that athletes or people in prominent sports roles just shouldn’t take a position on because opinions on those issues are so split down the middle,’ said Jim Scherr, the former chief executive of the USOC who now runs a sports marketing firm in Colorado. ‘You have to advise them that they should only take a position on certain things if they don’t care about the economic consequences. For example, if I were them, I wouldn’t touch the same sex marriage issue. I wouldn’t touch abortion.’

Vidmar, 49, who declined to be interviewed, participated in a rally supporting Proposition 8, the California ballot measure the defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, and donated $2000 to the cause.…

‘In earlier times, his opinions might not have made a difference because few would’ve known about them,’ Scherr said. But not now.

‘With the proliferation of social media and blogs, opinions get out there so much earlier than they used to, so people take a stand on an issue, it becomes known, lightning quick,’ Scherr said. ‘So there’s a greater risk for athletes who take a stand on controversial issues.’…

‘Peter Vidmar is such a good person, but he and some others think being against same-sex marriage is not discrimination,’ [Jessica] Mendoza [former Olympic softball player] said. ‘My feeling is that it is discrimination, hands down. It would be like speaking out against certain races or bashing women or bashing Asian Americans. But I know a lot of people would disagree.’…

Steve Penney, the president of USA Gymnastics, said Vidmar’s beliefs on same-sex marriage had never affected the way Vidmar served the organization. Vidmar has been chairman of the board since 2008.

‘Peter has been an ideal chairman for USA Gymnastics and would have been an ideal chef de mission on for the U.S. Olympic team, Penny said. It’s unfortunate that this issue clouded his selection because Peter is the most inclusive man I have ever met.’…

Donna de Varona, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, said future candidates for positions like chef de mission should realize that their pasts would be more scrutinized than ever. Candidates who express an opinion publicly about a hot-button issue are likely to pay the price for it, she said.

‘I just think we live in a completely different era right now, and you have to be very careful about what you say if you have hopes of being a figurehead,’ de Varona said. ‘You can’t be naïve.’” (Julie Macur, “For Some Sports Figures, Opinions Have a Price,” New York Times, May 11, 2011)

“Resignation (after only 11 days in the CEO role) became the only viable path forward when a sizable portion of the Mozilla Community refused to follow the person that the Board designated to lead the organization. That wide refusal and rejection fomented the issue, and Eich’s decision to maintain his public stance on gay marriage — as is his right — created an impasse.…

Is it reasonable for people to be upset about Brendan Eich’s material support of Prop 8?

Yes – it is completely reasonable for people to be upset about California Prop 8 and to be upset at anyone who supported it, including Brendan Eich. Marriage Equality and Gay Rights in general are significant civil rights issues, and it is completely legitimate to be upset at laws (and the people who contributed to their passage) that assert that homosexual couples are not equal to heterosexual couples, and therefore not entitled to legal recognition and rights as a family.…

In other words: California’s highest court had ruled the state’s gay marriage ban discriminatory and unconstitutional, and then discrimination was encoded into the state constitution.…

‘But that was six years ago when he made his donation!’

Eich issued statements about inclusiveness at Mozilla, and said he felt sorrow for pain caused. As far as I am aware, though, at no point I’m the past six years has Brendan Eich recanted or apologized for his donation. It’s a free country and he certainly doesn’t have to, but that donation came at a painful cost to tens of thousands of Californians.…

‘This should be a private matter and strictly about his personal beliefs.’

He directly contributed money to the campaign for a ballot measure that amended the California Constitution to specifically restrict rights that had just been legally recognized. That’s the very definition of a public matter.

‘He has a right to free speech!’

Indeed he does, and he is exercising it. You know who else has a right to free speech? The people objecting to his donation and saying, ‘I will not work for or with Brendan Eich.’ (I strongly encourage objectors to leave the door open to a reversal and apology.) Should our rights of free speech and free choice be abridged instead?

Eich has not had any of his bank accounts or assets seized, and he is not going to be charged with any crimes since none were committed. Freedom of speech is about protecting citizens from the State. (Ask anyone from Russia, China, most of Africa, most of the Middle East, or most of South America.) It does not mean that people have to like what you say or that you can say/do what you want without any repercussions.…

‘Have you seen what people are saying about him? They’re crucifying him! They’re destroying him!’

To the very best of my knowledge, Brendan Eich has not been tied or nailed to a tree or any structure involving perpendicular beams, nor has any physical violence of any form befallen him. I don’t know what his net worth is, but as Co-founder & former CTO of Mozilla and the designer of JavaScript, I am quite confident that he is nowhere near financial ruin.

There are angry people saying nasty things about him on the Internet. There are also angry people who say nasty things about Justin Bieber on the Internet. This is a part of life in the 21st century.…” (Ian McCullough, “Did Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich Deserve To Be Removed From His Position?” Forbes.com, April 11, 2014)

“On April 3, 2014 Brendan Eich voluntarily stepped down as CEO of Mozilla. It has been well documented that Brendan’s past political donations led to boycotts, protests, and intense public scrutiny. Upon his resignation, Brendan stated: ‘Our mission is bigger than any one of us, and under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader.’ The intense pressure from the press and social media made it difficult for Brendan to do his job as CEO and effectively run Mozilla.…

Brendan was not fired and was not asked by the Board to resign. Brendan voluntarily submitted his resignation. The Board acted in response by inviting him to remain at Mozilla in another C-level position. Brendan declined that offer. The Board respects his decision.…

Q: What was the sequence of events around Brendan’s appointment and eventual resignation as CEO?…

  • 2012: The Los Angeles Times reported that Brendan made a political contribution in 2008 to California Proposition 8
  • March 24, 2014: Because of his unique and proven ability to build both Mozilla and the Open Web, Brendan was appointed CEO of the Mozilla Corporation
  • April 3: Amid organized boycotts, protests and intense public scrutiny, Brendan resigned and stepped down as CEO

Q: Was Brendan Eich asked to resign by the Board?

A: No. It was Brendan’s idea to resign, and in fact, once he submitted his resignation, Board members tried to get Brendan to stay at Mozilla in another C-level role.…”  (“FAQ on CEO Resignation,” blog.mozilla.org, April 4, 2014)


Along the way, Balken began visiting state lawmakers in their districts, eventually making it to St. George, a city in southwestern Utah. There, she tried to make the case for nondiscrimination legislation with Steve Urquhart, a Republican state senator and a former Utah House majority whip. He said he understood but couldn’t support the bill.

Not long after, Urquhart’s eldest daughter told him that she was becoming the president of the Gay Straight Alliance at St. George’s Dixie High.

‘If this is something that you’re doing just to do, how about you don’t?’ Urquhart recalled telling her. It was a political headache he didn’t need in conservative St. George.

‘Then I said, ‘But now, let’s talk not politician to daughter. Let’s talk father to daughter, because that’s the conversation that really matters,’ ’ he continued. ‘ ‘If this is something that matters to you, then to hell with political concerns.’ ’

She responded that it wasn’t about her sexuality but about her gay friends. Life was extremely tough for them, and she wanted to offer her support, she told him.

‘I said, ‘Great, then this is something we’re doing. I’m with you,’ ’ he recounted.

Urquhart said his thinking began to shift. He stopped seeing sexual orientation as defining a person.

When Equality Utah was looking for a sponsor for its non­discrimination bill in 2013, Urquhart agreed to become its first Republican shepherd.…” (Niraj Chokshi, “Gay rights, religious rights and a compromise in an unlikely place: Utah,” Washington Post, April 12, 2015)


“Elder Oaks focuses on the First Amendment right that tells us ‘all citizens may hold whatever religious views they want, and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs so long as such actions do not endanger public health or safety.’ What if, instead of leaping to an entangled argument about rights, he, and the other Apostles, actually looked at the public health data showing the effects rejection is having on the health and wellbeing of LGBT people. Discrimination on religious grounds is a public health issue and one which religious leaders ought to be deeply concerned.

What a difference it could make if Elder Oaks visited a local homeless center and asked an LGBT young person there–it won’t be hard to find one as the numbers of LGBT homeless youth are near 40%–if religious messages made them feel unwanted at home, at church, in the larger culture. He could go to a suicide prevention clinic and talk to a counselor about how many LGBT people calling the hotline have been told they are going to hell or have committed an unpardonable sin for which there is no way out but death. He could go to an LGBT Mormon gathering and ask what effects rejection in their ward had on their physical and spiritual well being. Or he could call up the Department of Health and Human Services and ask about the growing data on health disparities affecting LGBT people.

Then perhaps rather than holding a press conference on the right for religious people to discriminate we might have one on a shared commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of all our people.

Now that would be a news conference I would want to attend.” (Sharon Groves, “When Will Religious Leaders Start to Act Like Religious Leaders: Reflections on the LDS Press Conference,” Huffington Post, January 30, 2015)


“Two days after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it backed some nondiscrimination legislation, Idaho became the first heavily Mormon state to consider such a bill, and legislators there, including some who are Mormons, voted it down.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 13-4 to hold a bill in committee that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Idaho Human Rights act, in effect killing the bill Thursday. The committee includes five Mormons, all of whom voted against it. The reason, they said, lies at the crux of the Mormon Church’s argument that with LGBT protections must come protections for people of faith.…” (Hunter Schwarz, “Days after Mormon church endorses some LGBT protections, LDS lawmakers in Idaho vote against them,” Washington Post, January 30, 2015)


“Yesterday’s announcement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) that they now support anti-discrimination legislation in housing, employment and public accommodation makes absolutely no sense.

Anti-discrimination bills, as the adjective would suggest, are meant to protect those named from being discriminated against. The Mormons’ ‘new’ stance merely proclaims that they now favor bills which would bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as long as those who discriminate against them are given protection for doing so. Such a twisted and distorted approach stretches both the language and the substance of such legislation into an unrecognizable shape and takes us into the realm of the absurd.…

Couched in so-called ‘religious liberty’ language, let’s call these efforts what they really are: a license to discriminate. The Mormons’ support for anti-discrimination is laudable, until you get to the part that begins with ‘except.’ It would be unlawful to discriminate, their support says, unless that discrimination comes from one’s religious beliefs. Presumably, a restaurant waiter need not serve two men or two women who are quietly holding hands at their table, if the waiter objects to their ‘lifestyle.’ Also, presumably, one need not serve an African-American couple at that same restaurant if one’s religion says that black people are an inferior race and should not mingle with whites. Or a Jewish couple who is not served by a waiter whose religion teaches her that Jews are not only eternally damned, but are ‘Christ-killers’ to boot!…

The Mormons and other religious people who object to LGBT anti-discrimination laws aren’t really looking to discriminate against sin and those who voluntarily participate in it. Why? Because they would be unable to offer public services and accommodation to anyone, given that we are all sinners. Such anti-discrimination legislation now supported by the Mormon Church is concerned with one ‘sin’ and one sin only, as a basis for the denial of services. I see no evidence in Scripture that the ‘sin’ of homosexual behavior is greater or more serious than all the other sins and those who practice it are to be shunned above all others. This exception to following anti-discrimination laws doesn’t even make sense on its own religious terms!

Many were quick to hail this announcement by the Mormons as a step forward. And I suppose it is, if dropping their opposition to LGBT protections in Utah and elsewhere means that these protections might become law. But if the religious exemption is allowed in such legislation, then the Mormons’ support is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It looks to be a softening of their opposition to anti-discrimination laws, while at the same time exempting those who are most likely to perpetrate that discrimination and are the very people from whom that protection is needed. Those who support such a religious exemption to anti-discrimination legislation are trying to sound kind, while clinging to their right to be mean. I, for one, am not buying it!” (Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, “Dear Mormons: Thanks But No Thanks,” Huffington Post, January 30, 2015)


“LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks set off a global chain reaction among Mormons this week, when he said he wasn’t sure apologizing for the faith’s past rhetoric on homosexuality would be advisable.

‘I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,’ Oaks said in an interview Tuesday. ‘We sometimes look back on issues and say, ‘Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,’ but we look forward and not backward.’

The church doesn’t ‘seek apologies,’ he said, ‘and we don’t give them.’

The Mormon leader made the same point, only stronger, Thursday during a video chat on Trib Talk by insisting that the word ‘apology’ doesn’t appear in LDS scriptures.…” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “No apology? Really? Mormons question leader Dallin H. Oaks’ stance,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 30, 2015)


“Jonathan Rauch, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, [said] ‘This is the first major, right-of-center religious organization in the United States to break with the culture-war strategy and to do so publicly.’…” (Tad Walch, “LDS position on gay, religious rights may influence state legislature around the U.S.,” Deseret News, January 31, 2015)


“Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Sandy, penned a bill that critics call reckless and dangerous. The ‘Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act,’ in short, allows anyone in the state to refuse services that go against a person’s religious beliefs.…

The bill then goes on to create a new chapter in the Utah Code that deals specifically with religious liberty.…

As provided in the constitution of this state, perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed and rights of conscience shall never be infringed, and all citizens of this state, both male and female, shall enjoy equally all civil, political, and religious rights and privileges.…

It goes on to say that no law, regulation or state action may ‘substantially burden a person’s religious liberty’ unless the action is strictly necessary to protect the public health and safety. It states that ‘the exercise of religious liberty is … a recognized exemption to otherwise generally applicable laws and a valid defense to claims of discrimination by others’ and basis for recovery of attorney fees and costs for defense of their religious beliefs.…

Equality Utah, which was borne out of the fight against Christensen’s Amendment 3, called the bill extreme.

‘LaVar Christensen has crafted extreme legislation that would use religion as a valid defense to any claim of discrimination by others. His proposed legislation would unravel our nation’s proud civil rights legacy — allowing any person to use faith as a protection from any claim of discrimination against gays, African-Americans, Jews, women, or any person that he believes is a sinner,’ said EU executive director Troy Williams. ‘His bill would allow people to pick and choose what laws they want to follow. It is a gross distortion of both religion and freedom. We will send this legislation right back to the 1950s where it belongs.’…

‘Under many proposed bills, an evangelical police officer could feel empowered to refuse to patrol a Jewish street festival; a city clerk could shirk the law and refuse a marriage license to an interracial couple, a divorcee seeking to remarry, or a lesbian couple; an EMT could claim the law is on his side after refusing service to a dying transgender person in the street; and the enforcement of other key sections of civil rights law could be dramatically undermined,’ an HRC statement read.…” (“Utah’s Amendment 3 author introduces anti-equality ‘religious liberty’ bill,” Q Salt Lake, February 12, 2015)


“In essence, Christensen’s bill would allow a person of faith to sue another person or business if the religious person contends his or her beliefs have been burdened. And the church-goer would win the suit and be awarded damages unless the defendants could clear an exceptionally high bar — showing that the actions they are accused of taking were the only available to prevent a grave risk to public health and safety.…” (Robert Gehrke, “HB322 could elevate freedom of religion above other constitutional rights,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 12, 2015)


“Does a clerk now have the right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs?

If a clerk chooses not to perform some marriages, no matter what the reason, then he or she will not be allowed to perform any marriages, and the clerk’s office must designate someone who will marry any couple who obtains a license.  They can’t pick and choose.” (Equality Utah & The ACLU of Utah, “SB297 FAQ,” March 2015)


“‘This is an exciting moment in Utah history,’ Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams said. ‘Today, we prove that protections for gay and transgender Utahns can stand alongside protections for people of faith. One need not harm the other.’…

[Senate Majority Whip Stuart] Adams has said the LDS Church’s position on the issues played an integral part of the negotiations.

LDS Church leaders called on government officials to protect religious rights while also protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and transportation. Church leaders also emphasized that people should not be forced to perform services that go against their religious beliefs.…

Meantime, a competing bill originally named the ‘Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act’ is scheduled for House committee hearing Wednesday. Bill sponsor Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, has rewritten the bill and now calls it ‘Religious Liberty and Nondiscrimination Protections.’

Christensen’s new version of HB322 would add religious liberty provisions and protection of ‘varying forms of sex-related interests’ to the to the state’s anti-discrimination and fair housing laws.

It also says the legal exercise of religious liberty is a defense to claims of discrimination, but attempts to ensure religious liberty claims are not abused or construed as a license to discriminate.…” (Scott G. Winterton, “Anti-discrimination, religious rights bill now expected Wednesday,” Deseret News, March 3, 2015)


“The measure has a rare stamp of approval from the Mormon church and stands a high chance of passing in Utah, where the church is based and many state lawmakers and the Republican governor are members of the faith.…

State Sen. Stuart Adams, a Republican who led negotiations on the proposal, said at the news conference that they’ve found a way to respect the rights of some while not infringing on the rights of others.

‘If Utah can do this, my opinion, it can be done anywhere else in the nation,’ Adams said.

The proposal, which will face its first legislative hurdle at a Thursday hearing, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation when it comes to housing or employment. Religious groups and organizations would be exempt from the requirement, as would Boy Scouts of America, which has a ban on gay adult Scout leaders and has close ties to the LDS Church.…

The Mormon campaign pushing for these types of laws is the latest example of a shift in tone by the church. While it has moved away from harsh rhetoric and is preaching compassion and acceptance, the church insists it is making no changes in doctrine and still believes that sex is against the law of God unless it’s within a marriage between a man and a woman.” (Associated Press, “Mormon Church Backs Utah LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill,” New York Times, March 4, 2015)


“Like in Utah’s history, when the final, golden spike was driven in Utah, uniting the west and east coasts of the United States, we hope today’s announcement will drive a spike in the false idea that LGBT rights are in conflict with religious freedom,’ [Senator Steve] Urquhart said.

The bill amends the Utah Antidiscrimination Act an the Utah Fair Housing Act to include ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’ provisions. It also, however, exempts religious institutions, associations, leaders (when acting in the capacity of their religion), and their subsidiaries, as well as the Boy Scouts of America. It also exempts businesses with 15 or less employees and building owners with 4 or less units.

This is the first time that the terms ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ would be codified in Utah law. Ultra-conservative groups have fought against any mention of the terms for decades, concerned such inclusion would affirm gay and transgender people as a protected class. In fact, this bill twice says, ‘This chapter shall not be construed to create a special or protected class for any purpose other than employment’ and housing.…

The bill has been drafted in such a way that, should a court declare any part of it invalid, the entire bill becomes invalid. This could result in dissuading any person or organization from suing the state over the constitutionality of the religious exemptions. Doing so could result in the loss of nondiscrimination protections.…

D. Todd Christofferson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, recognized that, ‘no party may get all they want. It is better, however, that both sides get enough of what they want.’

‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is proud today to support SB296, Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments.’…

‘This is an extraordinary moment for the state of Utah, for LGBT Americans, and for the Mormon Church, which, by supporting this legislation, shows a willingness to align with others on the right side of history,’ said HRC President Chad Griffin. ‘The desire exhibited by the Mormon Church to work toward common ground should serve as a model for other faith traditions here in the United States.’” (“Utah gay leaders stand side-by-side with Mormon apostles to endorse nondiscrimination/religious freedom bill,” Q Salt Lake, March 4, 2015)


“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.…

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.…” (Jonathan Rauch, “The Mormon-LGBT civil-rights deal breaks new ground in Utah,” www.brookings.edu, March 5, 2015)


“Government employees could refuse to marry gay couples — but would lose their privilege of marrying anyone — under a new bill released Thursday by the co-sponsor of a groundbreaking anti-discrimination bill.

SB297 essentially would adopt a Utah State Court policy governing judges.…

Every county clerk would be required under the bill to have at least one person available to marry gay couples or else contract with someone to do it.…

The bill also would put into law that religions cannot be compelled to marry gay couples — something the courts have already upheld — and that churches and religious institutions could not be compelled to provide services like meeting houses for same-sex marriages.…” (Robert Gehrke, “Government officials may not have to perform gay marriages,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 5, 2015)


“Attorneys from the state’s predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were intimately involved in its drafting. Most Utah lawmakers are Mormons.…

‘It would grant every LGBT person in Utah an opportunity to earn a living and to keep a roof over their head. That right does not now exist in the state of Utah or in 29 other states,’ said Cliff Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and chairman of Equality Utah’s board.…

In 2009, the LDS Church endorsed two Salt Lake City ordinances barring housing and job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It marked the only time — until Wednesday — that the Utah-based faith had endorsed specific, pro-gay-rights legislation.…” (Robert Gehrke and Jennifer Dobner, “Mormon leaders, LGBT groups trumpet new anti-bias bill as a ‘model’,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 5, 2015)


“A trailblazing bill that seeks to balance gay rights and religious freedoms sailed through a Republican-controlled Senate committee in a unanimous vote Thursday before earning a promise from Gov. Gary Herbert that he would sign the measure.…

But SB296 could face a challenge from Rep. LaVar Christensen’s HB322.

The Draper Republican’s proposal would give individuals, ‘closely held businesses,’ religious institutions or their affiliates the right to refuse to provide services if it would violate their religious beliefs. And it would allow religious freedom to be used as a defense in civil or governmental claims of discrimination.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Mormon-backed anti-discrimination bill passes first test – unanimously,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 5, 2015)


“SB296 passed on a 23-5 vote, two days after it debuted in a Capitol Hill news conference.…” (Jennifer Dobner and Robert Gehrke, “LGBT leaders concerned about Adams’ religious-protection bill,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 6, 2015)


“Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, also a Mormon, said it bothers him that his church is telling him, ‘using force’ to compel him and others, to live by a standard that it’s not willing to live by.

‘Should I do as my church says or should I do as my church does? That’s tough for me,’ he said before voting in favor of the bill. ‘I don’t like the double standard.’…” (“State Senate approves anti-bias, religious freedom bill,” KSL.com, March 6, 2015)


“With its enactment, Utah would become the 19th state to provide protections for the LGBT community in housing and employment based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, according to data tracked by the national Human Rights Campaign.

No federal laws provide such protections.

Nearly 20 Utah cities and counties have passed such anti-discrimination ordinances, but SB296 will supersede those and implement a uniform statute.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, the only openly gay member of the Legislature, said Utah now can be considered ‘the beacon on the hill of states … We’ve found a way where people who have totally conflicting ideas, that were at the edge of war in 2008, have rolled up their sleeves, worked together and built bridges rather than blow them up. I’m so proud of our state.’…” (Jennifer Dobner, “LGBT anti-discrimination bill clears Legislature, on its way to Utah governor,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 11, 2015)


“This bill:…

  • includes sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases for discrimination in employment;…
  • includes sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases for discrimination in housing;…”

(“SB 296,” 2015 General Session, State of Utah)


“The legislation passed Utah’s Senate last week, 23 to 5, and the House on Wednesday night, 65 to 10.…” (Lindsey Bever, “Utah—yes, Utah—passes landmark LGBT rights bill,” Washington Post, March 12, 2015)


“With the backing of Mormon church leaders, the Republican-dominated Utah Legislature passed a bill on Wednesday night that would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in housing and employment, while also protecting religious institutions that object to homosexuality.

The legislation, known as ‘the Utah compromise,’ has been hailed by Mormon leaders and gay rights advocates as a breakthrough in balancing rights and religious freedom, and as a model for other conservative states. But leaders of some other churches oppose it, saying it would not sufficiently protect the rights of individuals who have religious objections to homosexuality.…

Legislators and gay rights advocates said having the blessing of the church leaders turned the tide in the Legislature, where most members are Mormons.

‘The apostles of this faith, which is the predominant faith here in Utah, stepped forward and expressed an earnest and sincere desire to come together,’ said Representative Gregory H. Hughes, a Republican and the speaker of the Utah House. ‘We had not heard that before, and we had not heard that with such specificity, and we took notice.’…

‘It is a landmark,’ said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. ‘This is a Republican-controlled Legislature with a Republican governor, and this will be the first time that a Republican-controlled process has led to extension of protections for L.G.B.T. people.’

Senator Jim Dabakis, a Democrat from Salt Lake City who is openly gay, said it had taken seven years and a lot of dialogue to pass the legislation. After 2008, when the Mormon church helped pass Proposition 8 in California, which banned same-sex marriage, the church and gay advocates were ‘at war.’

‘There was a hostility and a bitterness and a disdain and a disrespect for each other, and we have gotten through that,’ Mr. Dabakis said. ‘Getting this bill isn’t just getting this piece of paper. It’s about changing the culture in Utah so we can have all these bedrock values we all believe in: respect, civility and understanding each others’ perspective.’

The bill, however, does not address what has become one of the most divisive questions on gay rights nationwide: whether individual business owners, based on their religious beliefs, can refuse service to gay people or gay couples — for example, a baker who refuses to make a cake for a gay wedding.

The Utah House also passed a second bill late Wednesday that would allow county clerks to opt out of solemnizing a marriage because of religious objections, but requires counties to make a substitute available during business hours for all couples — even same-sex couples — who wish to get married. The vote was 66 to 9. 

The bill also prohibits the government from requiring religious organizations and officials to solemnize or provide services for marriages they object to for religious reasons. Some gay rights leaders regard this second bill, which awaits a vote by the Utah Senate, as a dangerous concession that undermines the more inclusive spirit of the anti-discrimination bill.

Governor Gary Herbert is expected to sign the anti-discrimination bill on Thursday night in the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City, his office said.

Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that for months he had tried to convince Mormon leaders that supporting anti-discrimination legislation ‘is not the right strategy.’

The Southern Baptist Convention and Roman Catholic bishops have been close allies with Mormon leaders in fighting to protect religious believers who object to same-sex marriage. But Dr. Moore said his church and the Catholic bishops have parted company with Mormon leaders over the Utah legislation.

‘Christians and other religious people working in the marketplace are not really addressed in terms of their freedom of conscience,’ Dr. Moore said. ‘I don’t think this will be a model.’” (Laurie Goodstein, “Utah Passes Antidiscrimination Bill Backed by Mormon Leaders, New York Times, March 12, 2015)


“Some have tried to force faith groups to use their religious properties to celebrate same-sex unions. It is coercive measures such as these that have so alarmed people with religious values who wish to live their faith without being threatened. In state after state, advocates for religious liberties on the one side and advocates for LGBT rights on the other have clashed repeatedly. The result has frequently been the failure of either side to advance their cause, and anger and bitterness has been the end product.…

In late January 2015, the Church held a news conference in which it called for respectful dialogue and an effort to end the divisiveness that has so characterized the debate over the issue in recent years. Specifically, it called upon legislators in Utah and elsewhere to find common ground where reasonable rights could be afforded to all.

Church representatives, working under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, then met with Utah legislators and key stakeholders in an effort to support legislation that enshrines vital religious freedom protections while providing fundamental protections to LGBT people in housing and employment.…

Most notably, none of the three aforementioned bills addresses the provision of goods and services in the marketplace. This is a complaint that has been voiced both by those in the LGBT community and by their political opponents. It is an area that is simply too divisive to find a middle ground at this time.…

  • Will the Church support gay marriage if it becomes law?

No. The Church is not sanctioning gay marriage or allowing its ecclesiastical leaders to perform gay marriages. The Church recognizes that it is now legal in most states and accepts the reality in those places as far as the law of the land is concerned. But same-sex marriage will not become a part of Church doctrine or practice.…” (“Explaining Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights,” LDS Newsroom, March 12, 2015)


“A bill to allow some government officials to opt out of performing gay marriages received final approval Thursday.

The Senate passed SB297 25-3, agreeing to earlier House amendments. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.…

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, who is gay, said, ‘Every single county must provide for every single couple that comes to their county clerk office and has a valid marriage license and provide someone to marry them.’…” (Lee Davidson, “Bill passes to allow some officials to opt out of performing gay marriages,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 2015)


“After a late-night House vote Wednesday, Urquhart said the bill, which he proposed in three consecutive legislative sessions, would not have passed without the rare public support of the Mormon church.

The church’s faith leaders said in a statement Thursday that they are happy with the outcome of the SB296 vote, saying that the bill ‘reflects the very best of collaboration and statesmanship from groups and individuals who may not always agree on all things, but who have passed landmark legislation that balances religious freedom and anti-discrimination. While other states may find a different solution, we hope this fair, balanced approach shows that fairness for all is possible.’…” (Jennifer Dobner, “‘Milestone’: Herbert signs LGBT nondiscrimination, religious freedom protections bill,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 12, 2015)


“Nearly two decades ago, when Jim Dabakis was the board chairman for Utah’s new gay pride center, he sat down and penned a letter to Mormon church leaders asking for an opportunity to meet.

‘I got back a letter that said, we really don’t have anything to talk about,’ said Dabakis, now a Democratic lawmaker for Salt Lake City and the only openly gay member of the Utah Senate.

About six years later, after the launch of the gay rights advocacy group Equality Utah, Dabakis said he made a second plea to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Again, he was, politely, shot down.

Fast-forward to 2015 and a landscape dramatically changed: Dabakis and two senior church leaders stand together at a rare — some say historic — Capitol Hill news conference to unveil bipartisan legislation to bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Utahns, while safeguarding religious freedoms for churches and other religious groups.…

‘The entire time I was on Capitol Hill, there were always anti-gay bills,’ said Jackie Biskupski, the first lesbian ever elected to the Utah House, adding that some in the body would not sit next to her or make eye contact. ‘There were always people who just didn’t want you to have what they had.’…

‘There was a lot of fear and misunderstanding and apprehension on both sides,’ Dabakis said. ‘That very first meeting was awkward.’

It’s not clear why church leaders chose 2015 to step into the nondiscrimination spotlight, and beyond calls for fairness, none of their public statements have hinted at their reasoning.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Little-known history behind Utah’s LGBT nondiscrimination law recounted,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 16, 2015)


“Last week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill that extends employment and housing discrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and anyone perceived to be LGBT. But there’s a catch: Religious organizations, from churches and colleges to hospitals and high schools, are completely exempt. So, too, are corporations that are affiliates or wholly owned subsidiaries of religious groups (not uncommon in the heartland of Mormonism) and the Boy Scouts of America.

The next few years will likely shed light on the breadth of the exemptions. But at the moment, it seems if you’re a gay janitor at Brigham Young University or a transgender receptionist at any one of the many businesses owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Beneficial Life Insurance, prominent Salt Lake City newspaper Deseret News or broadcasting company Bonneville International, then tough luck.…

Other LGBT advocates are more skeptical.

They argue that the bill should never have passed, pointing out that last summer, when Congressional Republicans added similar religious exemptions to proposed federal legislation barring LGBT employment discrimination, major gay rights groups chose to pull their support from the bill rather than champion a compromised version of it.…

Some worry that Utah’s new law could serve as a model for passing anti-discrimination measures in other conservative-leaning locales. Thirty-two states, most of them in the GOP-dominated South and Mountain West, do not explicitly prevent employers from firing or harassing gay and transgender workers. Studies estimate anywhere from 15 percent to 43 percent of gay and transgender workers have experienced some type of discrimination on the job.…” (Cole Stangler, “Utah LGBT Discriination Law Backed By Mormon Church Comes With Concerns,” International Business Times, March 16, 2015)


“MR. McADAMS: In 2009, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, who I worked for at the time, announced that he was going to propose ordinances protecting against discrimination for Salt Lake City. And immediately, we had some very conservative members of the State Senate jump up and say, “If Salt Lake City passes these ordinances, we will revoke your ability to enforce these ordinances,” which they can do. 

And that set up — all of us saw, from across the political spectrum, that that set up a scenario that was a train wreck happening in slow motion — that Salt Lake City would proceed with enacting these protections, the legislature, in anticipation of an election, would — somebody would run a bill, and everybody would be — feel compelled to vote for it, and we would see this — 

MR. EDWARDS: Let me probe.

MR. McADAMS: Yeah.

MR. EDWARDS: In anticipation of an election, why is that important in Utah? 

MR. McADAMS: Well, this was politically not popular at the time. So, I had a lot of Republican legislators say, “I support what Salt Lake City’s doing, but if that bill gets proposed, I’m going to feel compelled to vote for the bill.”…

MR. ROSKY: So, I arrived at an important strategic moment for Equality Utah, and a shift that occurred. Equality Utah was originally founded in opposition to Utah’s Amendment 3, which was a constitutional amendment, like Proposition 8, to ban same-sex marriage in Utah. And, of course, Equality Utah lost that fight, and Amendment 3 became law. 

And so I guess it’s seven years ago at this moment, when the church jumped into the Prop 8 campaign, but also says, “We support employment, and housing, and other protections.” There’s obviously an opportunity there to get something done in Utah — some of the things that would really protect the most vulnerable members of our community. 

But, honestly, the scars, I think, on both sides were still deep. And when Equality Utah saw those statements, I called them up and said, “We need to use this. This is a real opportunity.” And they said, “Oh, we’re using it.” And at that time, they were running what they called the Take the Church at Its Word Campaign. 

They put a clock on the website — it’s been seven days since the LDS church claimed that it supports antidiscrimination for — this is not a productive exercise in Utah, and they were running a campaign to repeal Amendment 3 at the time. Of course, we all supported that, but it wasn’t going to survive the Utah legislature. 

And I think we came together, and we thought hard about it. And it wasn’t an easy decision. We decided, we’re not going to give up on any of our fundamental principles, but for now, we’re going to focus on things that most Utahans agree on, and push those very hard. 

MR. EDWARDS: This was Equality Utah that came up with –

MR. ROSKY: Exactly.


MR. ROSKY: And so we called it the Common Ground Campaign, just to emphasize that, actually — and polls started coming out, in fact, from “The Deseret News” and other papers; 75 percent of Utahans agree on comprehensive antidiscrimination protections. And that sent a very powerful signal. And, frankly, you know, that’s front-page news in Utah, certainly seven years ago — and probably even today.…

MR. ROSKY: So, I think that there’s some things that we went into the discussions that were core principles — no specific exemptions that only applied to LGBT people, no exemptions that any religious individual could invoke as a license to discriminate, no sort of Hobby Lobby-type exemptions where any business owned by a religious individual or family could exempt themselves from the law. 

And I think those are principles that I would hope that any local LGBT organization would stick to in these kinds of discussions, because they’re important — but also recognizing that people of faith deserve the same equal protections under antidiscrimination laws as everyone else. Some of those exist. Maybe some of them need to be refined — and we’re certainly open to that. 

One important piece here, though, is that although it’s a milestone, I don’t think that it’s a model for the following reason: Utah already had preexisting exemptions for religious institutions in its antidiscrimination laws that are wholly unlike any others in other states or in the federal. For example, religious organizations were completely exempt from our antidiscrimination laws and still are. So, churches could discriminate based on race, sex, disability, age, and other characteristics. That’s unusual.…

MR. McADAMS: I think — I mean, that trust, it was built up over time. It wasn’t just coincidence that two months ago, the LGBT community and the church came together and had a dialogue. 

But dating back to 2009, when these conversations started around the Salt Lake City protection — but there was the Executive Director of Equality Utah at the time, Brandie Balken, who was a real hero — no longer the Executive Director, but a real hero in this process. She developed great relationships with church public affairs and church leadership, and they really developed a fondness and trust for her. 

I remember an experience, if I might share, where there was a gay rights group that was planning a protest right in front of the church headquarters. And I remember hearing this story. I don’t remember who told me — whether it was Equality Utah or officials from the church — but that the church said, “Hey, we’ve been great to work with. Are you really organizing a massive protest in front of our headquarters?” 

And, you know, the “great to work with” meaning there’s a dialogue; not to say that Equality Utah was content with the status of where things were. But Brandie said, “You know what? In a show of faith, you’re right. I’m going to reach out to this organization. We’re going to move that protest as a rally in front of the Pride Center.” 

And just that token of, yeah, we’re not going to protest you; we’re going to rally. We care about rights, and we care about an agenda that we’re looking to move forward, but that can happen constructively at the Pride Center, and not destructively, in front of church headquarters. 

And so it’s things like that that happen from both sides — that the LDS church, I think, then reciprocated by inviting gay rights organizers to a holiday music festival. And they were treated as VIPs and seated very prominently. And that happened over time. That didn’t just happen when people decided to come together and draft a bill. But there were gestures — healing gestures to bring the two sides together, to say, “We’ve got more in common,” that, “My constituents are your constituents, and vice versa.” 

And that happened over time.…”

(“Gays, Mormons, and the Constitution: Are There Win-Win Answers for LGBT Rights and Religious Conscience?” The Brookings Institution, March 16, 2015)


“While in the legislature I was a faithful member of the LDS Church; to speak of things that might bring embarrassment to the church would have been unwise, not to mention political suicide. Today, the issue is very topical with the recent passage of the pro-LGBT legislation, and I feel it is time to break the silence and provide some insight.…

A common question from people is whether or not the LDS Church leadership gets whatever they want when it comes to Utah politics, and the answer is a resounding, ‘Yes; if the LDS Church wants something in Utah politics, they get it.’ 

To be absolutely fair, they rarely want things badly enough to engage openly.  The church is very selective regarding the legislation they engage.  This is due to the fact that because most of Utah’s legislators are LDS members, the majority of legislation already aligns with the LDS Church position without their influence.  During the three terms I served in the Utah House of Representatives, I was only approached twice by the LDS lobbyists for a vote.  

John Taylor and Bill Evans are full-time employees of the LDS Church and their job is to monitor the Utah Government, and to act as the paid lobbyists on behalf of the church. They regularly meet with legislators behind closed doors, (as do other lobbyists, this is nothing nefarious or unusual,) to push the agenda of their employer. 

When the LDS lobbyists contact a legislator, the conversation goes like this:

We are here to discuss such-and-such bill. We have received our orders ‘directly from the top,’ and we want you to vote for this bill.

They mention that they received their orders ‘from the top,’ so that the legislator would know unequivocally that the LDS Church’s First Presidency sent them.

The first piece of legislation they contacted me about dealt with alcohol. For better or worse, it is an unarguable fact that legislation regarding alcohol never gets passed without the express consent of the LDS Church. They control all changes to the state alcohol laws.

In 2008, SB 211 was proposed to remove ‘flavored malt beverages’ from grocery stores and place them for sale in state liquor stores only. The day the bill was to be heard in the House of Representatives, I was summoned to the hall, where I was met by the LDS lobbyists. They gave me the ‘from the top’ introduction, and then asked me to support the bill. I told them no. Although not a drinker, I simply could not bring myself to take a profit-producing legal product out of the hands of private business owners and give it to the state to sell. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

Keep in mind, that in 2008 I was a faithful Mormon with a current temple recommend, and had only recently been released from my LDS leadership position as an Elders Quorum President. To tell my church leaders ‘no,’ was anathema to how I was raised. As I turned to walk back into the chambers, one of the lobbyists said to me, ‘Don’t worry, voting against us will not affect your church membership status,’ I was relieved.

SB 211 passed.…

Then came 2011; the year my rose colored glasses regarding the LDS Church got scratched a bit. 

HB116 was an extremely controversial bill dealing with illegal immigration and proposed issuing state worker cards to illegal immigrants. For at least two weeks prior to the final passage of HB116, the two church lobbyists practically lived in the back halls of the state capitol and in the office of house leadership. I was vocally opposed to the legislation, but was still contacted repeatedly by both lobbyists who attempted to change my opposition. The calls became frequent enough from the LDS Lobbyists, that I stopped taking them.

What bothered me most was when my local ecclesiastical leader contacted me and attempted to persuade me to vote for the bill as well. When I asked him, ‘Who from the Church headquarters had asked you to contact me?’ he simply confirmed that he had been asked, but would not say by whom. 

The night HB116 was debated for final passage was insane. There was intensity I had never felt before or after on the house floor. It was the intensity that comes only from political bullying, and it killed me to know that this time the ‘bully’ was my own church.

I was approached by a younger representative who was on the verge of tears. He expressed to me that he had just gotten out of a ‘PPI meeting’ and asked if I had had mine yet.  I knew what he meant and I was sorry for him. 

A legitimate ‘PPI’ or ‘Personal Priesthood Interview’ is conducted within the confines of the LDS Church. It is an ecclesiastical meeting between an LDS leader and a male member under their ‘authority.’ When I was an Elders Quorum President, I held PPI’s with the elders under my charge.  A PPI is used to check on the spiritual welfare of the man being interviewed, and to make sure they are on the ‘straight and narrow.’  But that is not what this legislator meant…

What he had just experienced was an intense, closed-door meeting with select members of house leadership and the LDS Church lobbyists who made it abundantly clear that when HB116 came up for a vote, he was to support the bill, period.

Sometimes, if the legislator felt strongly enough about the legislation, they would allow him to vote against it, but ONLY after the bill had the necessary votes recorded to ensure passage.  This was the deal this particular representative was under, and both he and I knew it. He was clearly shaken and expressed that he had no idea that his ‘church would do this kind of thing.’ I hurt for him.

House leadership was split on HB116, so when I saw a member of house leadership who I knew was opposed to the bill walk onto the house floor, I went up to him and engaged him in conversation. The following is our word-for-word conversation:

Me: Hey, (name of House leader) how much of what is going on tonight regarding HB116 has to do with the LDS church?

Him: All of it; I hate this.

Me: It’s going to pass isn’t it?

Him: Yes, and in fact if the vote is close, I have to vote for it, I have no choice.’

Me: You had a PPI?

Him: Yep…(walks away).

HB116 passed as the LDS Church lobbyists looked on from the gallery.

I was not in the legislature this year, but the look and feel of the passing of HB116 and the current non-discrimination bill are quite the same. One can only guess how many legislators had ‘PPI’s’ before the vote on the church-endorsed LGBT legislation, but there is no doubt in my mind, that as legislators read this blog, one or more of them will know precisely what I am talking about.

So, what role does the LDS Church really play when it comes to Utah politics? From my experience, it all depends on how badly the church wants a specific piece of legislation passed.” (Carl Wimmer, “The Role of The LDS Church in Utah’s Politics,” www.AnAmericanDreamRevealed.com, March 19, 2015)


“Salt Lake City’s anti-discrimination ordinances passed in 2009 and set the stage for 18 other local governments and, eventually, the Utah Legislature, to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

But the new statewide law that will become effective May 11 supersedes local ordinances and gives victims of housing or employment discrimination a right of redress not offered under the city and county protections.

The 17 cities and two counties that passed nondiscrimination ordinances can fine violators, with penalties ranging from $500 to $1,000. But the victims of that discrimination receive nothing, said Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and chairman of the board of Equality Utah.

By contrast, the state law will allow residents to file complaints with the Utah Labor Commission. If the complainant prevails, he or she is entitled to reinstatement, back wages and legal fees.…” (Christopher Smart, “Utah’s anti-bias law has teeth Salt Lake City’s does not,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 23, 2015)


As the meetings of ‘stakeholders’ began and all sides brought needs and concerns to the tables, about 13 ‘sticking points’ were spelled out, Dabakis said.

‘As time went on, 13 became 10, which became five and then two,’ he said a few days before the press conference on Capitol Hill. The sides were so close then that the press conference was scheduled, but had to be moved because legislative services didn’t finalize language in time.

What the LGBT side needed was full and equal rights in employment and housing, with the caveat that businesses under 15 employees and rentals of four or less units could be excluded. Church leaders, on the other hand, needed to know that they wouldn’t have to perform same-sex marriages, that their schools and businesses could continue to choose who worked there and demand that employees and student housing renters would live within church tenets.

Church leaders also wanted to ensure that those speaking out or contributing to causes related to their sincere religious beliefs would not face repercussions such as the loss of their job for doing so. That protection also covers the inverse, where an LGBT person could not be fired for expressing their concerns or revealing that they are in a same-sex relationship.

Off the table was protections for LGBT people in public accommodations. In fact, Sen. Dabakis agreed to back off his introduced bill that offered such protections as part of the compromise.

People on both sides of this hill believe that their side gave up too much.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, ‘It is better that both sides get most of what is desired than to have a winner-take-all where one side loses.…

[Cliff] Rosky said that, at the beginning of the session, there was a very real threat to the LGBT community in Rep. LaVar Christensen’s version of a Religious Rights bill. Christensen is very aligned to the ultra-conservative eagle Forum and Sutherland Institute and was the author of Utah’s Amendment 3—the constitutional amendment that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman and disallowed state sanction of civil unions.

‘LaVar Christensen’s HB322 offered no protections to gay and transgender Utahns, and yet at the same tie used the banner of religious liberty to drive a truck through our state’s civil rights laws,’ Rosky said. ‘It would have destroyed protections for religious and racial minorities, while not giving anything to the LGBT community.’…

Many in our community are still distrusting of the LDS Church, but they also know that, had the church not stated its support, this bill would not have become law, and may have been decades until it did so. The question remains, are these protections worth the cost? (Michael Aaron, “Nondiscrimination laws years in the making signed into law,” Q Salt Lake, April 2015)


“Despite what much of media and entertainment outlets may suggest, however, and despite the very real decline in the marriage and family orientation of some, the solid majority of mankind still believes that marriage should be between one man and one woman. They believe in fidelity within marriage, and they believe in the marriage vows of ‘in sickness and in health’ and ‘till death do us part.’…

We want our voice to be heard against all of the counterfeit and alternative lifestyles that try to replace the family organization that God Himself established. We also want our voice to be heard in sustaining the joy and fulfillment that traditional families bring.…” (L. Tom Perry, “Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World,” General Conference address, April 4, 2015)


“Even so, in his last LDS General Conference address, Perry, a Mormon apostle for more than four decades, defended ‘traditional families’ and warned against the dangers of ‘counterfeit and alternative lifestyles.’

Some in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community felt attacked by Perry’s language and then questioned his support of the legislation.

The use of the term ‘counterfeit’ may have ‘taken on more meaning than he intended,’ Lee Perry said in the interview, but critics shouldn’t question his father’s motives or intentions.

‘There is a lifetime of evidence,’ the son said, ‘that he had this profound respect for people.’” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Late Mormon apostle Perry cherished Utah’s LGBT-religious-liberty law, son says,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 2015)


“While Indiana’s recent attempt was round criticized, a recent nationwide poll suggests that the Mormon Church’s approach (which guided the enactment of recent legislation in Utah) was seen more favorably.…

Of those who have followed the story, 32.6% say that [the] Mormon Church’s efforts have given them a ‘more favorable’ view of the religion, whereas 10.9% report that it has produced a ‘less favorable’ view.  The remaining 56.5% say that this did not change their view of the Mormon Church one way or another.…” (Benjamin Knoll, “Mormon ‘Middle Way’ Approach to LGBT Protections Boosts Its Public Favorability,” Huffington Post, May 8, 2015)


“On the LDS donation [to the Utah Pride Center], this is a momentous decision. Not necessarily the amount, frankly, they were a little surprised the Center asked for so small a contribution (I told them that the Pride Center did not want to appear greedy—yet) but, rather the fact of the donation. It is historic. A cash donation to the Utah Pride Center by the LDS Church! Unthinkable.…

If the LDS Church wants to let the word out (they were not sure when I spoke to them last), I think this donation can be packaged up by the Center as the beginning of a great working relationship. There will be some fallout from some of our folks and everyone should be prepared with answers but on the whole, my guess is, that the vast majority of the state will see the continued working tougher of the homo’s and the momo’s as a good thing.…

Elder perry told me he received not a few nasty reponses for his public embrace of SB 296.…” (Jim Dabakis to GAP, June 8, 2015)


“The LDS Church has made a first-ever financial contribution to a Utah Pride Center program that serves food to Salt Lake City’s homeless and low-income youths.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Mormon church makes first-time donation to Utah Pride Center youth program,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 1, 2015)


Balken: I think another piece of it is that it does create the opportunity for a private right to action, and the local ordinances don’t do that.  So today in Salt Lake City if your employer says to you, “I’m going to let you go, Greg, because you seem a little bit too effeminate to me, and whether or not I know you’re gay, you seem like you’re gay.  I don’t like that, so you’re fired.”  You could file a complaint, but you couldn’t seek to be made whole.  That, I think, is part of the problem.…

Prince: So the non-discrimination bill got out of committee.  Did it get a floor vote?

Balken: It did not get a floor vote, because we timed out.  Our bill came out of committee and to the Senate on the Monday of the last week of the session.  The session ended on Thursday at midnight.  Monday was the last day for the Senate to consider Senate bills.  The remaining three days of the session were dedicated to hearing House bills that had already passed the House and had been kicked over to the Senate.  The Senate President had informally polled the Senate and said, “We don’t have the votes to pass this out of the Senate.  This is going to require an immense amount of floor time to debate this bill, and knowing that it will not pass, I would rather not spend the time on this last day to hear Senate bills.”

Candidly, the lobbying team that we work with felt that was a better option for us to take, to not have it go to a full floor vote.  Then you have people on record saying, “I stand against this.”  It’s easier to keep someone neutral and give them more information, than to try and flip someone if they have already taken a negative position.

(Brandie Balken, April 11, 2013)

Reporter: Are you worried at all, is the Church worried about future proposals that may undermine that balance that was found, between religious freedom and antidiscrimination?

Christoff.: All the parties agreed that to avoid that, they would include a rather unusual provision in this law that is called “non-severability,” meaning that if one part is repealed or challenged, or for whatever reason goes away, the whole thing goes away.

Reporter: I remember reading that.  So that gives you peace of mind?

Christoff.: I think it gives all sides, all parties the comfort that the balance that has been achieved will remain, because if part of it goes, we start over.  With the effort that has been made, the goodwill that has been shown, the result as it is, a very positive one, is going to keep it in place.…

Christofferson: Well the doctrines have been have been clear and have been consistent and I want to emphasize this is not a doctrinal evolution or doctrinal change as far as the church is concerned.  It’s how things are approached, how things can come together when the time is right, how to talk about things, you know, how to be sensitive as you grow in understanding for example about same-sex attraction as we all have.

(Transcript of press conference with D. Todd Christofferson, KUTV, March 13, 2015)

Prince: So tell me about this new announcement by the Church that they are going to back the Utah non-discrimination legislation.

Dabakis: We had a couple of meetings over the last couple of months to talk about the legislative agenda.  I thought, “Ah hah!  This is it!”  But about forty-five minutes ago they withdrew their comments and said, “No, no.  That was just a beta test and there has been no change.  What we meant to say was that we are only supporting what we had supported in the Salt Lake City ordinance in 2009.”

Prince: Oh, boy.

Dabakis: So now it gets even stranger.

Prince: And aren’t we proud!

Dabakis: I don’t know what to think, Greg.  I really believe this is part of a much bigger crisis of leadership.  There are factions, and things come and go, and there is a lot of pushing and shoving.  But I have no clue.

Prince: This was so hopeful to me.

Dabakis: Yes, me too.  And I thought this is just the Church’s way to do it, and be able to do it in a way, a little later, that says, “Oh, no.  This has been our policy.  We had this on our obscure website, but that’s clearly where we have been.”

Prince: So they can have it both ways.

Dabakis: Yes, exactly.  But now they have kind of been forced into saying what they have said, by us pushing it.  I wasn’t nervous, but I at least wanted to push it to the point where they would have to be serious if they backtracked.  But they did backtrack.

(James Dabakis, December 22, 2014)

Dabakis: It was Hell.  It was awful.  It was the most difficult thing in history.  We were hours and hours and hours and hours.

Prince: Back up to late January, when they had that astoundingly inept press conference.

Dabakis: You’ve nailed it.  It was a disaster!

Prince: Yes, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole.

Dabakis: You had [Dallin] Oaks talking about public accommodations.  It was so un-LDS, it was so unorganized, it was so off-message.

Prince: He and Jeff [Holland] both managed to lay a horse-apple in the road, and then step in it.

Dabakis: They knew afterwards what an egg they had laid.  It kept pressure on them to actually get the nondiscrimination thing done, so in that sense I think it worked for the good.

Prince: What was the genesis of the press conference?  I got a text message from Steve saying, “Be ready, because in ten minutes there is going to be a press conference.”

Dabakis: That was all we knew.  They called me the night before and said, “We’re going to say something tomorrow, and we think you’re going to like it.”

Prince: Was this Public Affairs?

Dabakis: Yes.

Prince: Why would they have Todd Christofferson conducting it?  It seemed to me like that was kind of a twist of the blade.

Dabakis: What I think happened was that the Good Cardinal [Dieter Uchtdorf] squeezed it through while he could, perhaps during a meeting when [Boyd] Packer wasn’t there.  They wanted to get out there, in the public, with what they wanted, right there and then.  So there it was.  It almost never happens, but occasionally, like Wilford Woodruff, who wanted to end polygamy once and for all, he got a meeting with the Twelve and said, “Buzz off!  We can’t do this anymore.”  So he wrote the Manifesto, took it over to the Deseret News, had it published, and sat back and said, “What are you going to do now?”  That was the story that came back to me.

Prince: “I am the president.”

Dabakis: “I am the president, and I decide stuff.”  I doubt that it happened on that level in this case, but my guess is that whole thing was a maneuver.

Prince: Where was the First Presidency?  This was an unprecedented press conference, and to have them absent was a really glaring hole.

Dabakis: But even then, after that press conference it was so hard.  It was hours and hours and hours.  [Alexander] Dushku was on one side, and the Woman from Hell [Robin Fretwell Wilson] came in from Chicago, this law professor who thinks she is God’s gift to nondiscrimination and religious liberty.  She’s kind of a right-wing whack job and a college professor of law.  So this is her personality: the Governor, at the signing event, wanted to make sure that she didn’t say anything.  They assigned places where we were going to stand.  She walked in from the crowd, elbowed her way up, and stood on the podium and announced that she was the one who was able to bring everybody together.  She appeared at every hearing, unannounced, and just went on and on.

Prince: Do you have any idea of who brought her in?

Dabakis: She said—it wasn’t the Sutherland Institute, but it was a group like that.  She “just happened” to be here.  There was a meeting late at night on a Sunday, about 11:30.

Prince: Was this the day before I met with you and Steve in the Senate Lounge?  He said he had had a 3-hour meeting the night before.

Dabakis: Yes.  She started screaming at everybody, the church lawyers were yelling, and everything was going to heck.  They started talking about the Holocaust, and somebody was screaming about the Boy Scouts.  It was awful.  At that point it looked like it was all going down.  I texted a “high church leader” saying, “This is all going to shit.  You’ve got to talk to your guys, otherwise we’re done.”

Prince: This wouldn’t be a “high church leader” we’ve discussed before!

Dabakis: I’m not saying.  [Laughter]  I used the word “shit” specifically.  Cliff Rosky was there from Equality Utah, and he was passionate.  I quietly sent my text message.  And Marina Lowe was there from the Utah American Civil Liberties Union.  She was able to tone things down.

Prince: This was still in the Sunday meeting?

Dabakis: It was in the Sunday meeting, and then in the meetings after that.  Finally, on that Sunday night, I said, “Guys, this is not about your lofty road of blah, blah; this is about us coming together.  You need to get out the way so we can get this thing done.  We’re not going to get this close again.  If this turns out to all blow up, it’s going to be on you.”  They weren’t my lawyers.  I didn’t have any lawyers and I wasn’t qualified to do any of the legal stuff.  The only way it would work would to be to get everyone to buy in and say, “This is OK.”  That included the ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign, the transsexual peoples’ lawyers, and the LDS Church.  Everybody had to buy in and say, “This is OK.”  So Cliff did the job, all along the way, of keeping these outside interests going along, not only to give us advice, but to give buy-in.  If we would just have slammed down a bill in front of them in the last 48 hours of the session, they would have gone crazy because they wouldn’t have understood the process of how we got there.  So we had all these other organizations that we were trying to keep on board.  We had to make sure there wasn’t anything that would make any of those organizations blow up, so we knew that we weren’t going to get everything we wanted.  We knew we couldn’t go for public accommodations.  That just wasn’t going to happen.

So the church lawyer started yelling about the Dale Case, which was the Boy Scouts case.  We spent two hours talking about what that meant.  Finally Cliff said, “What are you interested in specifically?  Stop this blah, blah stuff.  What is it you are worried about?”  They said, “Well, what about the Days of 47 Parade?”  That’s one of the few instances where there is already case law.  You can discriminate, as in a case in Boston.  Then they said, “What about this?  What about that?”  But they couldn’t really come up with anything.  I finally said, “Maybe we can work something out, but you’ve got to tell me what you are worried about.”  Finally, it came down to the Boy Scouts.

Prince: That was it?

Dabakis: Yes, and it was eight fulltime jobs in Utah that they were worried about.  So I said, “OK, let’s make an exemption for the Boy Scouts, without a RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].”  The irony was that that exemption already existed because of the Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale.  It wasn’t new ground, but we put “Boy Scouts of America” in the bill anyway.

Prince: Had that really been their only hang-up?

Dabakis: Yes, but it took that moment to crystallize what the hang-up was, with Cliff saying, “What is it you want?  We can’t have these glaring generalities, so what is it you are looking for?”  I think that forced them to go back and say, “Yes, what is it we are looking for?  What do we want?  Where can we go?”

So we finished up on this thing.  Everybody was exhausted.  But there was one word that they couldn’t agree on—one word!  It was “recognize.”  I said to our guys, “Are we finished on SB296?  Can we live with this?”  It was a completely different bill than we started with.  Marina and Cliff said, “We can live with everything except for one word, ‘recognize.’”  “All right, how bad is this?”  They said, “It’s a deal buster.  We cannot have ‘recognize’ in there.”  I said, “Look me in the eye.  Tell me this is it, and that if I get this, that will be it.  I don’t want to go back to the well.  I’m going to make a stand.”  They said, “No, we’re there.”

So I called the other side and said, “Look, here’s the deal.  If you leave ‘recognize’ in there, I can’t support 296.  I just can’t support it.  It will do us more damage to have the national groups come out and say we are traitors.  Where does that leave us?  You’ve got to get ‘recognize’ out.  And we only have hours to do this.  We have a committee hearing that will be starting.  I just can’t be there, I can’t do it unless ‘recognize’ comes out.”

Cliff and Marina went back into Stuart Adams’s office for another marathon meeting.  I was out on the floor, and I would pop in occasionally.  They didn’t take ‘recognize’ out, but they put ‘recognize, for religious purposes,’ and they could live with that.  So that was that.

We got 296, but then the sons of bitches came out and said, “OK, we have another bill, SB297,” which just came out of the blue.  It was completely unacceptable.  Everybody got back to the trust factor: “Why didn’t you tell us about this?”  All these egos were out, and we were four days before the end of the session, trying to get this thing done.  It was about egos.  I said, “Look, 297 is out there, so you guys go make it work.  Put stuff in there that we can live with, and call it ‘religious liberties.’  There has to be a way.”  So they crafted it out and got it done, and then sold the national guys.

Then, we had to get it through the legislature.  That was easy, because Stuart Adams is the Majority Leader and he knows how to do stuff.

Prince: Did he get it, in terms of the importance of it, or was it just a political thing?

Dabakis: He didn’t get it.  He didn’t know a RFRA from anything.  He knew nothing, nothing about any of this until the Senate leadership asked him to pick this up.  He was a quick study.  He stood there through every single permutation and was a complete stalwart.  He sold his caucus and his leadership on it.  Stuart did a terrific job, and I think Steve would say that without Stuart we wouldn’t have had it go through.

Then, in the House, Brad Dee was the sponsor.  He is a human resources guy.  That’s what he does professionally.  And, he is a stake president.  He was able to go to the church guys and say, “Look, you guys, you’re climbing up the wrong tree here.  These things don’t matter, but this one matters a lot.”  He was very valuable in information.  He had to get it through these crazy people in the House.

Prince: 296 or 297?

Dabakis: Both.  So off we go to the House.  And then, there was LaVar Christensen’s crazy HB322, which was the Indiana bill.  It was so awful, and I said to Brad, “If we pass 322, even if we pass the others, it’s going to be Arizona here.  It’s going to be terrible for the state, so you have to control it.”  Well, he had a big caucus, and they felt like they had to go too far with 296 and 297, so the sons of bitches passed 322.  I said to Brad, “Hold it up.  Don’t send it over to the Senate.  You don’t have to send it.”

We finally stopped it on a procedural issue.  It had been “circled,” but we could “un-circle” it on a motion without a voice vote.

But we still needed to get 296 and 297 passed.  They were written, but we had to get them passed.  I said to the church people, “You have to come up here.”  They said, “We don’t go up there.”  I said, “You have to come up to the Hill, and you have to have a press conference.”  That’s a tough thing for them to do.  We started to talk about what they were going to say, and I said, “You have to endorse 296.  If you don’t, LaVar is going to jump up to the microphone and say, ‘It’s the principles.  This is what the Church is talking about.  It’s religious liberty!  And it has all come together in my bill.’  So you guys not only have to come, but you have to say, ‘We support 296.’  You have to say it three or four times.  There can be no ambiguity, or we will lose everything.”  They said, “OK, we will mention 296.”

So then they called and said, “We are going to send Elder Christofferson and Sister Marriott.”  I said, “No, you have to have a senior apostle!  These guys need to be convinced that this isn’t some rogue P.R. thing.  We have to have Packer or Perry.  If you send Christofferson, they aren’t going to buy it.  You have to send a senior guy!”

Prince: Packer?

Dabakis: That’s what I said.  “You guys decide.  We’re in this rowboat together.  You can’t go back.  We have to get this thing past the goal line.”  So they said, “OK.  We’re coming with Elder Perry, Elder Christofferson and Sister Marriott.”  And there they were.  So there was that backdrop, and that’s why even the whacky House went along with it.

The Governor had nothing to do with any of this, but he want to have a big signing ceremony in the Capitol, which I loved.  This was the first time.  They don’t sign bills during the session, but they had this giant thing in the rotunda.

Then they came out with the schedule of where everybody was going to stand.  Clearly, the Governor did not want me saying a word.  I get that.  So Urquhart spoke.  They had a hand-held microphone, and all these gay people thousands of them, were standing behind him.  Steve gave me the microphone and said, “Talk to them.”  I picked up the mike and started talking, and I could see the Governor just rolling his eyes.  I turned around to all the gay people and said, “This is a great day for the LGBT community of Utah!”  Everybody cheered.

Then, I noticed that Elder Perry, who was there, pointed to me and said, “You are the man!”  So I grabbed the microphone, went over to him and said, “All of this wouldn’t have been possible without Elder Perry.  I want to thank him.”  He didn’t appear to want to say anything.  But there is a great picture of him saying, “You’re the man!” and me saying, “You’re the man!”  Hopefully that sent a message to Mormons everywhere that this wasn’t some concocted, coerced, miserable thing.  And it sent a message to LGBT people that this was worked two ways.

Prince: I’m still stunned that it did work.  

Dabakis: If you could have seen how many moves of the Rubik’s cube it took, you almost have to believe in divine inspiration in order to think all of this through.  There were so many moving parts, and everybody kicked in when it had to happen.  It’s just remarkable.…

Dabakis: I can’t say enough about Steve, about Senator Adams, about Representative Dee—and about Michael Purdy, who was the quarterback for everything.

Prince: Do you think Purdy gets it now?  I wasn’t sure when he replaced Bill Evans.

Dabakis: Purdy is Bill, but on steroids.

Prince: Really?

Dabakis: Oh, yes.  Bill was a consensus builder.  He really didn’t clobber.

Prince: Will Purdy knock heads?

Dabakis: Purdy knocked heads.  He was yelling at people.  He was in the middle of going at it.  Purdy and I had exactly the same goal, which was the moment where we signed the bill, where we came together, where we made it happen.  It wasn’t the words the lawyers were writing; it was the message going out to Utah, to the United States, to the world that there should be this fact and communication, and there should be civility as people speak, even if they disagree on things.  That’s where Michael and I were from Moment One.  We got it.  I love Bill Evans like a brother, but he wasn’t forceful enough to be able to say to the guys upstairs, “We’ve got to do this.  We’ve got to move.  Here are the demographics, here is what is going on.  It’s no longer an option.”  Having Michael there was crucial—plus, he’s a P.R. guy in the sense that he ran the media division.  So he came to the political through the lens of the media.  There was not one issue where Michael and I were not rolling our eyes while the lawyers were arguing.  Sometimes we would say, “Guys!  Get off it!  It’s about what it’s about.  It’s changing hearts and souls, not about courtrooms.”…

One aspect of SB296 that needs to be pointed out is that the Democrats in some of the Salt Lake City districts refused to give up the issue in order to get it passed.  It was never going to pass with a Democratic sponsor.  So I said to Brandie Balken, “Give it to Urquhart.  I’m not going to put my name on it.  I’ll be a co-sponsor, but let him carry it.”  I think that was the genesis of it being viewed as bipartisan.  Steve was able to pick up that ball and take it much farther down the field than I had.

Prince: Was Steve on board before the ball was handed to him, or did you have to convert him?

Dabakis: I don’t think he knew anything about it.  It would be interesting for you to see where he was on the issue.  After Steve became its sponsor, they did something they had never done before.  They passed a special rule on this bill to allow two sponsors, Steve and Stuart.  All along the way there were special angels watching over this.  And it couldn’t have happened without Michael Purdy.  He put his career on the line.  He put his career on the line!  He was adamant.  Bill’s heart was there and he was on our side, but he always felt himself to be the guy who implemented policy, rather than pushing, demanding.  

(James Dabakis, March 30, 2015)

I met Jim Dabakis at Little America for breakfast and an interview.  While some of the material is redundant—I interviewed him a couple of years ago—there is much additional material that is invaluable.  One thing that he said at breakfast, before we began the formal interview, was that at one point in the negotiations during this legislative session (that eventually resulted in the passage of SB 296), there was a seemingly insurmountable impasse.  He turned to Michael Purdy and in a strong voice said, “We’re done, unless I pull the ripcord.”  Purdy knew what that meant: a phone call to Dieter Uchtdorf.  Purdy said nothing, knowing that it was the only card that could be played, and yet being unable to approve or disapprove it.  Jim did call Uchtdorf, and then the impasse dissipated.…

Dabakis: My point is going to be that there were many stories, and many meetings and many occasions, and many ups, and many downs between that first meeting in 2009 and the final meeting, and the governor signing SB296.  But in the process of that tortured legislative session, as we sat down, as we talked, as we negotiated, as we continued to go over words, as they were harsh words, and breakup of the talks, and as things got really bad, we were able to reach down to the roots of this relationship of trust and understanding that we had built up.  To a large extent, we were creating a situation where it could have been terrifically embarrassing for both of us if one of us had betrayed where we were.  If I had gone out, or if the LGBT community had gone out in the middle of the talks and said, “We can’t deal with blah, blah, blah,” it would have been satisfying at moments, in a short-term way; or it could have gone the other way as well.  We could have been left out to dry.

Prince: But it could have killed the relationship.

Dabakis: That’s right, and it probably would have.  But my point is that when the really, really tough issues came, we had enough trust in each other that we were able to get down to those roots and realize that we could trust each other and that we could make a difference.

So that legislative session and those hours, and the introduction of totally new characters at the last minute without whom we would never have been able to get the bill through, like Stuart Adams and Brad Dee, and of course Steve Urquhart and the various lawyers—that worked only because we had developed over all these years this candid, respecting, civil dialogue.  When push came to shove we were able to look at each other in the eye and say, “Look, are you really doing this to screw us over?  Is there some kind of hidden agenda here?  Is there a Trojan Horse?  Is this going to be horribly humiliating for us?  Is that where this is going to be?”  And they were the same with us in a lot of these discussions.  But there was enough candor and civility and honesty, though it wasn’t easy.  There were moments when we were all sure that it was all going to blow up, but nonetheless that’s what happened.

Prince: And those were moments after the January 2015 press conference?

Dabakis: Yes, exactly.…

You can say it’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional, it’s about church and state; but you know what?  I live in a real world where fifteen votes wins, and there were not going to be fifteen votes in the Senate until we got one big “Yes.”  So why would we spend tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists, lobbying a legislature that was unwinnable until we got that one “Yes”?  So how do we get the one “Yes”?  That became my goal.  It was less about the legislature, hoping that there would come a time when the legislature would be the focus of it, but not until after.

To make it clear that this was a community-wide effort, I did meet with Bishop Wester of the Catholic Church; I met with Bishop Hayashi of the Episcopal Church; I met with other religious community leaders so that I wouldn’t be meeting with just the LDS leadership.  But the reality is the reality in Utah.  So that’s one of the things I decided: “I don’t care about the rest of the legislature on nondiscrimination until we get a green light, until we get a deal.  If I can hold up a deal and say, ‘The LGBT community and the Church have worked this out,’ then we have a shot.  Even then it might not pass, but we have a shot.  To go around the Church was just foolhardy.

The other thing I determined is that it is really hard for a Democrat in the Avenues, a Representative or a Senator, to yield sponsorship and the spotlight of this bill to somebody else.  But to me, it was more important to actually pass the bill than that I be the sponsor of it.  So I got involved in asking Steve Urquhart, a very conservative, Mormon-ish legislator from St. George, to sponsor the bill.

Prince: Had he already been turned on this issue?

Dabakis: I think it all happened at once.  His own conversion to it involved his daughter, who was a student at the University of Utah.  It’s a terrific story.  So he had been prepared to accept the message of the Gospel of Nondiscrimination.  But to have a Democrat holding the bill was not a serious move on wanting to get it actually passed.  I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, “Look, what do you want?  Do you want this as a sledgehammer to say, ‘I’m fighting,’ or do you want the actual, damn bill to pass?  So I got through those two things.…

Prince: When was the hand-off to Steve [Urquhart]?

Dabakis: That would have been in 2013.  He carried it in 2013 and 2014.  Senator Stuart Adams came into this in the middle.  He is a conservative guy from the Ogden area.  LDS.  Part of leadership.  We weren’t non-friends, but we weren’t particularly close.  I don’t know whether the Senate leadership asked him to be the point guy on this, or how it happened.  But he started out looking at this through a senator who had quit the previous year, Stuart Reed, who had been in Ogden.  Stuart Reed was a right-of-individual-conscience kind of guy, very tough.  In our early conversations, Senator Adams spoke that kind of language, but he quickly—I mean, with remarkable rapidity and insight—began to understand really complex issues on this, things like what a RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] is, and a right of individual conscience, and what do we do about religious liberty, and how does the First Amendment affect it?  He’s not a lawyer, but I have never seen anybody pick it up that fast.  Within a few days, he understood what the discussion was about, and then grabbed it in a very methodical, very meticulous way, and steered the ship of the exact bill through a lot of negotiations.  Steve and I were on one side, and the Church and their lawyers on the other, and it was really Stuart Adams who had dozens and dozens of hours.  It was interesting, because he was so new to the issue, and yet he picked it up and did a terrific job.

So when it came time, when we had finally hammered out SB296—there was no 296; it was SB100, but somebody suggested that we change the name because there had been baggage, as far as the religious liberty people were concerned, with SB100.  So I said, “Fine.”  That seemed an easy concession.

So then the issue came up of sponsorship of the bill.  We talked about that, and in the entire history of the Utah Senate there had never been a bill sponsored by two senators.  It has never happened.  But we decided to change the name and to have two sponsors on the bill: Steve Urquhart and Stuart Adams.  So with special rules in the Senate we passed a rule change that allowed this to be the only bill ever, in the history of the state, to have two sponsors.

Then also, very fortuitously, although some people might have other words for it, the house selected another representative from the Ogden area, Brad Dee, who was the contender to be the Speaker of the House.  He has been up there several sessions.  His profession is human resources for Weber County.  He understood the intricacies like nobody else around the table, including the lawyers.  His whole career has been H.R.  Plus, he is a very strong Mormon.  Sometimes during the discussion he would look at the Church’s lawyers and say, “That is not an issue.  You are arguing the wrong thing.  This has nothing to do with what you are talking about.”  Or, he would say, “This is a battle worth fighting.”  Everybody trusted Brad because he was up-front.  I don’t know how this would have happened without Brad.  And he came off the bench when the house leadership said, “You go handle this.”  He did, and he came into the fight not knowing what the rules of boxing were, as far as the players, but he knew the law and he was a calming effect on all of us with his ability.

(James Dabakis, April 8, 2015)

Dabakis: I want to show you an email [on his cell phone].  This is what really rocked the world.  I asked Mavis, my secretary, to find the letter from last February that changed our world.

Prince: This was during the SB296 negotiation?

Dabakis: Yes.  So she found it and sent it to me.

[I read the email, dated February 25th, 2016, which was written by Jim and addressed to Dieter Uchtdorf, essentially saying that SB296 was stuck because of bickering between attorneys, including the Church’s, and pleading for him to intervene.  Otherwise, the letter said, the bill would die.]

Prince: Did Uchtdorf respond to you directly?

Dabakis: I spoke to his secretary.  She called and said, “The President is just heading out.  He wanted you to know, Senator, that he got your letter and he understands the urgency of the matter.”

(James Dabakis, April 7, 2016)

Evans: This is probably outside the scope of what you will be talking to the reporter about.  The whole issue of pursuing passage of a non-discrimination, statewide law could change because of this case, given the very conservative nature of our legislature.  In some ways, it could be the conservative version of the LGBT response after Prop 8 passed, and we could see some things coming out of the legislature in the spirit of “that judge can’t tell us what to do.”

(William Evans, December 23, 2013)

Rosky: So the first day of the session this year, LaVar Christensen introduced a bill that was worse than Indiana’s bill now.

Prince: HB322?

Rosky: Yes, 322.  It was like the worst RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] that ever would have been passed.  It was a very bad bill.  No, it wasn’t the first day of the session.  The second day of the session was the first major event, when three apostles came together and had a press conference, and linked religious liberties to LGBT rights.  They talked about employment and housing, but also, for the first time, public accommodations.  It’s very fair to say that the message on unemployment and housing was crystal-clear.  There were no exemptions and no exceptions.  But the message on public accommodations was very mixed.  The examples they gave were hotels, restaurants and transportation, but “public accommodations” means all businesses that are open to the public, even non-profits.  So that was a very limited concept of public accommodations.

And then, talking about religious liberties, there were these examples provided of things that needed to be protected, and one of them was a doctor’s right not to perform an abortion on a lesbian.

Prince: That was Jeff Holland, and it was embarrassing.

Rosky: Yes.

Prince: He made it sound like the Church encouraged LDS physicians to perform abortions.

Rosky: Right.

Prince: But they don’t want them to be forced to do them on lesbians.  So how many accidental pregnancies are there among lesbians?  And finally, which Andrew Rosenthal pointed out in the New York Times, if you substitute “black” for “lesbian,” see how it sounds.

Rosky: Yes.  And it’s quite confusing because there is already a Utah law saying no doctor can be forced to perform an abortion.  That’s the law in forty-four states in this country, so what is the point of that example, other than scaring people?

Prince: Jeff had been smoking the wrong stuff that day.

Rosky: But then the lesbian example was discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.  So you can’t say you support nondiscrimination in public accommodations and not support that.  Which one is it?

And there was also this weird thing, when you think about what the opposition to same-sex marriage was about.  It was about the idea that same-sex couples can’t procreate, and here two women come and they want to have a baby, and you say no?  It’s like, “You can’t marry because you can’t procreate, and you can’t procreate because you can’t marry.”  There is just something weird.  It’s not that it is inconsistent.  There is an explanation: “You shouldn’t procreate or marry.”  But those are widely regarded as some of the most fundamental things we do in a lifetime.  I think that was a difficult example.

But there is not much upside to just taking aim at the LDS Church politically in Utah.  It’s a good way to alienate a large group of people.  There were good things in that statement.  There was an unqualified endorsement of employment and housing protections, not just in Salt Lake City, but at the state level, and in every state in the country, and in every country in the world.  It was very clear that this was a broad principle and they supported it.  All of the religious liberty exemptions that they were talking about—none of them applied to employment and housing.  So we said, “Good.  On employment and housing we are with you.  The legislature is finally out of excuses.  They have been telling us, ‘Oh, Salt Lake City is different, blah, blah, blah.’  It’s not different.  We have the statement.  Let’s pass employment and housing protections right now!”  Seventy-five percent of Utahns support them, the LDS Church supports them, sixty-six percent of Republicans, sixty-percent of Mormons, sixty-six percent of the residents of Utah County support them.

Prince: What had been the tally the prior year amongst the state legislature?

Rosky: They didn’t vote on it.  We got out of committee.

Prince: Right, but did you have a sense for what the percentages were within the legislature?

Rosky: It was a “no” vote.  It was a “no” vote in the Senate, and it was an emphatic “no” vote in the House.  So the Church endorsement was great, and we said, “Let’s go.”…

Prince: I was with Steve Urquhart in the Senate Lounge on the Monday, which was March 2nd.

Rosky: Oh, the Monday!  I remember that.  All you have to say is “the Monday.”

Prince: The Monday after the Sunday.

Rosky: The thing that had been very frustrating about it was that we had all these negotiations, and I had not seen the language that we were negotiating over.  We were negotiating over something that existed in people’s heads, but not on paper.  Of course, language only matters on paper.  And this was true of my partner in negotiations.  So on Monday morning at eleven they were talking about crossing t’s and dotting i’s, and I said, “Wait a minute!  I don’t have any t’s or i’s in front of me.  Show us.”  We had, I think, four hours to finish.  I was here [tapping his desk] in pajamas.  My partner at the Church [Alexander Dushku], his power was out.  We met at his office.  I lost my car keys in the law school.  I had to go to the registrar’s office and say, “I need a car.”  I ran over to Alex’s office, and worked as fast as we could, because we were out of time with the legislature.  That’s not a great way to make a law.

One of the key things that created the conditions for success was that Utah’s antidiscrimination laws were already unlike any other state’s laws, in that the exemptions for religious organizations were very broad.  This is a fundamental, important legal point that people didn’t understand, and still, I think, few do.  Under federal law, and I think under most other states’ laws, churches can discriminate based on religion, but not on anything else.  Religious schools can discriminate based on religion—a Catholic school doesn’t have to hire a Muslim teacher—but they can’t discriminate based on race.  When you are picking your minister, you can do whatever you want; but not when you are picking your janitor or your teacher.  And that principle has been applied very broadly.  Deseret Gymnasium fired a janitor because he lost his temple recommend, and the Supreme Court unanimously said, “You have the right to fire him, because it is based on religion.”

Under Utah law—and we have had antidiscrimination laws since 1969—religious organizations have been exempt from the whole law, so they can discriminate based on race, sex, disability, whatever.  That created an opportunity, because Equality Utah, of course, all of the things we endorse have to treat LGBT people the same as everyone else.  We can’t have special rules and burdens for LGBT people.

Inclusion, in our antidiscrimination laws, would mean inclusion with all of the same exemptions that applied to everyone else.  So we were not going to pass a law that said churches can’t discriminate against gay people, or BYU can’t discriminate against gay people.  That would be very hard.  That would have to get litigated: how does that work?  So that problem was already addressed, and that created a huge opportunity.…

One of the important things—and this is very under-reported and would be of interest to you—is that it’s not easy.  People fantasize that the LDS Church owns the Utah Legislature.  It’s not true.  The LDS Church is to the left of the Utah Legislature on immigration, on gun control—

Prince: —on abortion and welfare.

Rosky: Yes.  And it can’t get the Utah Legislature to pass laws that it wants.  It also can’t stop them from passing laws that it doesn’t want.  Getting them to pass this law, successfully lobbying the Utah Legislature for the first time in history to protect LGBT people was a very difficult thing to do, and they had to have a bill that would pass.

Prince: And they had to have Tom Perry.  I talked to Jim Dabakis about this.  He said first they offered Mrs. Marriott and Todd Christofferson, and they told the Church, “No.  That won’t work.”  And it wouldn’t have.

Rosky: Yes.  And again, you’re saying this, I’m saying, “Yes, it sounds right,” but I have no idea.

Prince: I’m not attributing this to you.  I have it from other sources.

Rosky: Right.  So it’s unique: it’s the first Republican-controlled legislature to ever pass an antidiscrimination law that protects LGBT people.  The law looks, in some ways, a little different than other laws.  It uses some different language that’s never been used before.  Just that freaked some people out, just the newness of it.…

Because of the whole thing about the religious exemptions in Utah’s laws, there was a lot of confusion when SB296 passed.  There were some op-ed’s coming out, and people didn’t understand the law.  They thought that it added brand new, huge exemptions for the LDS Church and its subsidiaries.  Not true.  People were saying, “Oh, but the Church is exempt.”  Well, the Church has always been exempt from our antidiscrimination laws.  They thought the Church was only exempt when it came to gay people, or something like that—that there was some kind of trade:  “You get the gay exemptions, we’ll take the protections.”  That’s not really what happened here.

(Clifford Rosky, March 31, 2015)

Urquhart: This is huge.  I just met with the Government Affairs folks with the Church.  Here is what they handed me.  It’s very short, but it’s going to be a long press conference.  Here are the five points: [I have included the five points in a subsequent diary entry for this same day.]

Prince: So far, so good.  What’s the backstory?

Urquhart: I don’t know.  There is a firebrand representative in the House, Jake Anderegg, and he is running a bill that says people don’t have to perform marriages they don’t want to perform, if it’s based on a sincerely held religious belief.  I’ve been bombing that on Facebook saying, “What does this mean?  This is a subjective test.  The KKK has sincerely held religious beliefs that include God having made racial differences, and therefore it is wrong to integrate the races.  So I guess KKK county clerks don’t have to perform interracial marriages.  Depending on the religious persuasion of folks, they don’t have to perform interreligious ceremonies.  They don’t have to perform ceremonies for people who have been divorced.  What is the end on this?”  So there is this dialogue: “Do Mormons need this?  Where is the Church on this?  The Church is silent.”

This past Wednesday or Thursday there was a reporter for the City Weekly, Eric Peterson, who is really a rabble-rouser.  Lately in my commentary, I have been going both barrels.  I told him, “The fate of this bill is entirely in the hands of the Mormon Church.  Most of the legislature is Mormon, and on this issue they are looking to do the bidding of the Mormon God and the Mormon Church.  The Mormon Church knows this and knows that the bill will fail without its active participation, because of decades of prior teachings.  So if the Mormon Church wants to end employment and housing discrimination in its own state, it will speak up on this issue.”

Was that a final straw?  Did I give myself too much credit?  Did he say to the Church, “Here is a Mormon Republican Senator saying that if you want to end discrimination in your state, you’ll do something?  It’s your members who are going to defeat it, thinking they are doing your bidding.  Do you have any response to that?” 

So I don’t know.  It does feel like they are moving awfully fast.  The Church doesn’t usually put out things with such poor grammar.

(Stephen Urquhart, January 27, 2015)

Urquhart: They cobbled this together, and I think now they don’t know what they did.  I think Oaks thinks they did one thing, and Uchtdorf thinks they did another.

Prince: The press conference was so sloppy.  Here you have a Utah Supreme Court justice who cites four cases, and every one of them is bullshit.  Every one of those!  They can’t hold water.  Then they had Jeff Holland getting up there, and why in hell’s name does he bring up abortion when the Church has always discouraged its physicians—in fact, it has threatened them with church disciplinary action if they perform any abortion?  Now he is saying, “Well, if our guys do abortions but don’t want to do one on a lesbian, they should be able to refuse.”  Jeff, what have you been smoking?  It’s the Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight.

Urquhart: I was telling Jim Dabakis today, “Yesterday was a great day because it was a step.  But I’ll be quite surprised if we pass something, because I think that Oaks just figured, ‘We’re giving up something huge, so we can have the beefiest religious protection law in the land.’  But it’s not something huge for them.”  If they want to have a right to discriminate, there is no way that Dabakis and I will go along with that.  Are we really going to try to pass a non-discrimination bill that the LGBT community is unanimously opposed to?  This will be interesting.

(Stephen Urquhart, January 28, 2015)

“I then drove to the capitol where I met in the Senate Lounge with Steve Urquhart.  He was upbeat and said that because of a meeting last night, it appears certain that the legislature will pass the first statewide LGBT non-discrimination bill in its history.  There had been an impasse, probably because of the ambiguous messages the Church sent out in its press conference in late January, and Steve said Jim Dabakis finally called Dieter Uchtdorf and asked him to intervene.  Thus, the logjam began to break.  However, there were still unresolved issues regarding exemptions, and so Steve called what turned out to be a 3-hour meeting Sunday night with Michael Purdy, Alexander Dushku (an attorney with Kirton, McConkie who is the Church’s counsel on the non-discrimination legislation), and Clifford Rosky (a faculty member of the University of Utah Law School who is legal counsel for Equality Utah).  Steve said the turning point came when Purdy called off Dushku, telling him that he was getting in the way of a workable deal.  Steve said there is to be a press conference this week, in the capitol, that will include an LDS General Authority, the director of Equality Utah, and several legislators to announce the final proposed bill.  Steve considers it a done deal, although the legislative process will not be completed until next week when it goes to the House of Representatives.”  (GAP diary, March 2, 2015)

Urquhart: This was incredible.  I think it changes Utah and changes the Church.

Prince: There is also an online article on the Brookings website that gives SB296 high marks.  It quotes the Williams Institute at UCLA as saying, “This thing is authentic.”

Urquhart: Yes, it’s real.  People are going to be analyzing it, but it’s a great bill.  And SB297 is also great.

Prince: How did the final days roll out?  It’s unprecedented to have the two apostles trot it out.  And Perry showed up for the signing, too.

Urquhart: You’ll have to ask Dabakis.  They weren’t moving forward, and I think he called the German [Dieter Uchtdorf] and said, “Look, this session is coming to a close.  We need to get this done.”  I kind of wonder if the German didn’t bust heads.

(Stephen Urquhart, March 14, 2015)

Williams: Then, there was this weird moment when the Church was working on its beta site, and then walked it back.

Prince: That was last December.  How did that leak out?

Williams: All I know is that someone from Mormons Building Bridges had it leaked to them from the Church Office Building.  Then it was sent to me, and then boom, boom, boom!  Then, the Church backed out.  I really thought that the backlash from the marriage decision was too fresh of a wound, that there would be no movement forward.  I didn’t know how I was going to do that.  I was green.  I was used to being an activist doing rallies and getting arrested.  I was not used to this backdoor diplomacy and deal making, and I had no idea how to do any of this.

(Troy Williams, March 30, 2015)

Williams: I found my first boyfriend at age 32.  That was awesome and horrible.  That person was the first person to ever say to me that if he could take a pill to be straight, he would never take it, because he loved being gay.  That was the first time I ever heard anybody say that to me.  That was a profound epiphany: “Oh, my gosh!  This is something worth fighting for.”

We were in this building, Little America, and we were going into the ballroom for his holiday party for the company he worked for.  He took me as his date.  It was the first coming out for him with his management and his boss.  It was a super-Mormon company, and he was fired the next week.

Prince: Because of showing up with you?

Williams: Yes.  So I witnessed this great injustice, this horrible thing that had happened.  He was my first love, and this horrible thing happened to him.  There was no justice there.

Prince: No legal redress?

Williams: No legal redress.  So I became a gay-rights crusader.…

But simultaneously, while the marriage thing was happening and the Kitchen case was moving through the 10th Circuit and potentially, we hoped, to the Supreme Court, Gene Schaerr and the Attorney General, Reyes, took the senate leadership into a closed-door meeting and said, “You must kill all LGBT-related bills, good or bad.  We don’t want anything to be said that could hurt the case.

Prince: The “moratorium.”

Williams: Yes, the moratorium.  They shut the whole system down.

What’s really important for you to fact-check is that after the Church’s endorsement of the Salt Lake City ordinance, there was an 11-point leap in the approval rating for nondiscrimination for workplace and housing for gays.  Eleven points.  By the time the moratorium hit, KSL/Deseret News released a poll that said that 72% of the state supported a statewide nondiscrimination bill.  This leap was unprecedented.  Before the Church’s endorsement of the Salt Lake City ordinance, it was in the high 40s; and a few years later it was 72%.  There is this crazy groupthink: “When the Brethren speak, it’s OK now.”

So we had the Chamber of Commerce, we had all these corporations, and the LDS Church had supported the Salt Lake ordinance; but why wouldn’t the Church move the statewide law forward?  Was it because they thought there might be some exposure to animus?  Or that maybe they could use it in a court case, where they could say, “The LDS Church really hates gay people”?  So they shut it all down.

Senators Urquhart and Dabakis, and Brandie Balken and I got called into a meeting and we were asked, “What are you going to do about it?”  I said, “I will cause the biggest disruption that the legislature has ever seen.”  Brandie said—and this can’t all be revealed in the book—she would be the good cop, and I would go disrupt whatever.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  I had no idea.  This was on Friday, and I just knew that on Monday I was going to do something.  I didn’t know what it was going to be.

I got my friends together and I got some attorneys on Sunday night.  I said, “I want to do an action, and the outcome may be that we get arrested.  Will you do this with me?”  I didn’t know who was going to show up.  I had all these signs made, like “We are the 72%,” and we blocked Governor Herbert’s doors.  All of us locked arms, and we wouldn’t move.  The troopers came, but they didn’t want to arrest us.  They didn’t know what to do, so they evacuated the Governor out of the back tunnels.  Then they said, “OK, the offices are empty now, so you can stand here as long as you want.”  I was like, “No, it’s time to step it up.”  I figured out where the Senate President was going to be at his next committee hearing, so we went there and blocked those doors.

Then, Senator Reid, the guy who has been dying to drop a RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] on us, came.  That was when the troopers came in, swooped us up, and we got thrown into jail.  We spent about seven hours there.  I was strip-searched and thrown into a cell.  There were thirteen of us; I was separated from the rest of my crowd, and I was put in a drunk-tank with three intoxicated, homeless men for an hour by myself.  “What are you in for?”  It was an awesome moment.

All the time we were in jail, the media were going crazy over the story.  Social media were exploding.  When we got out of jail, there were crowds of people.  The press were all there.  I didn’t realize that our community just needed someone to fight back.  We had had the shit kicked out of us all the time, and now we were fighting back.  The reaction here to what was called “The Capitol Thirteen” was incredible.  The next morning I went into a café for breakfast, and the straight manager said, “Oh, my God!  You’re the Capitol Thirteen guy.  I’m buying everything for you!”  Everywhere I would go, I would get coffee bought for me.  I just realized that people were ready for someone to fight back and to be defiant.  That was a position that I was able to do, always orchestrated in conjunction with Jim Dabakis and Brandie Balken, all of us playing our different roles.  There was no way Brandie could have pulled it off as the Equality Utah head.  She had to be the diplomat.  So I got to be the loud-mouthed person.

It was quite a big decision for the board of directors of Equality Utah, with Brandie stepping away.  She was elegant and graceful and charming and loving—

Prince: And loved.

Williams: And loved.  “She is a diplomat, and we are going to replace her with the kid who just got arrested?”  That was an existential struggle that the organization had to wrestle with.  And I had to wrestle with it, too.  Do I follow this path?

Prince: Was Cliff Rosky chair at that time?

Williams: Yes.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but I was determined that I was going to make it impossible for them to say no.  I had this moment—I went to the Castro, I had just broken up with my boyfriend, so I was in this existential thing.  I felt the history there, and the courage of my gay ancestors who had survived the Plague.  I went to Harvey Milk’s camera shop for the first time.  I was sitting with Kate Kendall, who was former board chair of KRCL, my radio station, and she said to me, “You are applying to be the head of Equality Utah.”  I had been kicking it around.  “Should I, or shouldn’t I?”  The spirit of Harvey was there, and I realized, “I love my community so much.  I love the history of this people.  I love everything about this community, and I’m going to do this.  I’m going to make it impossible for them to say no to me.  I’m going to go be the diplomat.  I’m going to take the whole activist thing, and I’m going to transition and be the peacemaker.”  I had been preparing to do that.

So they picked me.  I was very fortunate, because Brandie laid the groundwork and Jim laid the groundwork, so I could come in and be the torchbearer and carry it—nondiscrimination work—across the finish line.  In a couple of years someone else will come along, and I’ll have to pass the torch to them, and it will keep going.

So I have this little moment in time when I get to be part of this.  It’s transformative and it’s exciting, and I think that there is something really, profoundly awesome about a radical, angry, alienated Mormon kid who actually gets to be the one to shake hands with an apostle as we pass this historic legislation.  It’s an awesome moment.  I gave what I consider to be the best speech of my entire career, and probably the shortest speech of my career, at the press conference with Elder Perry, the one where they actually came in and endorsed SB296.

Prince: Up at the Capitol?

Williams: Yes.  Think about where I have been.  I was the missionary who had such physical pain because of being a gay person.  I said, “If the 20-year-old me could have seen me today, advocating in behalf of a gay and transgender community with two apostles of my church, that would have given me tremendous hope for the future.”  I know that me being the activist, speaking there, was giving that next gay kid hope for the future.  That’s why we are doing all this work, so that generationally there is not that torment.  Instead of being tortured about who you are, you recognize that you have such tremendous gifts to give the world, and that’s why you’re here.  That’s why queer people are on the planet.  If we don’t all have kids, we enhance the world through beauty, through art, through music, through poetry, through all of these things.  That’s our gift to give.…

So I was following Dabakis’s and Urquhart’s lead.  I met with the Church the first time about a week before the legislative session started.

Prince: Three months ago?

Williams: Yes.  I went in with Marina Lowe from the ACLU.  I had met Michael Purdy at some event before, a Christmas concert or something; and John Cannon.

Prince: Purdy was not at our dinner at the Alta Club.

Williams: No, I think I had met him at some handshaking thing.

Prince: I think it was John Cannon who attended that dinner.  And Bill Evans was there.

Williams: Bill has been awesome with me to this point.  I called Bill first and said, “How do I do this?”  He coached me through.  He took me aside right when I got the job.  I said, “Bill, how hard is it going to be for me to work with the Church?  Are they going to have issues with me?”  Bill said, “Yes, they are, but only until they get to know you.  Once they get to know you, you are going to be fine.”

Prince: Did he know you well enough by that time to make that judgment?

Williams: Yes, at that point we had spent time together and we had talked, and they had done their homework.  I went through angry phases with the Church.  I blasted the Church publicly.  I wrote inflammatory pieces.  I wrote a piece in Salon saying, “Mormons are socialists,” just to be provocative.  I was in a movie called “Tabloid,” about the whole Joyce McKinney affair, where she kidnapped the Mormon missionary.  It was kind of a cult classic film by Errol Morris, one of the greatest filmmakers.  I go into detail in that film about the temple ceremony and what happens.  That was in about 2009 that I shot that, and I had no filter.  I was thinking, “The Church sees me as an enemy, and I don’t give a damn!  I’ll tell you exactly what happens in the temple ceremony.”

But all of a sudden, now I had to be a diplomat with the Church, and I had blasted the Church.  I had called them to repentance.  I had called the church prophet to repentance.

Prince: And they have long memories up there.

Williams: Yes, and I’m the guy who has to go and do this.  I thought, “Well, they could send Nixon to China, so why not me?  Let’s see what happens.”

So I walked into the meeting with the Church.  We started talking and it was all very cordial.  Then, Alexander Dushku started talking about individual conscience, saying, “Why can’t you guys budge on the issue of an individual using their conscience, protecting them?”  I said, “I know exactly what that means—that means being able to use your deeply-held religious beliefs to discriminate freely, à la Arizona.  Right?”  Then I sat there while he and Marina Lowe started getting into it.  The tension in the room started mounting, getting thicker and thicker.

Prince: This is January of this year?

Williams: Yes.

Prince: Who was in the meeting?

Williams: Michael Purdy, John Cannon, some other young guy who was just vacant.

Prince: And Dushku representing the Church?

Williams: Yes.  Everyone else was quite warm and friendly.  Cannon was, Purdy was; but Dushku was not.  He is a trial attorney, and he wanted to win and protect the Church.  So tension in the room started getting thicker and more uncomfortable.  They started this lawyer-speak thing that Dabakis calls “legal blah-blah,” and I couldn’t participate in the conversation.

Prince: Was Cliff Rosky there?

Williams: No.  I couldn’t participate in the conversation, so I just put my hand gently on the table and said, “I need to interrupt you gentlemen for a second.  I need to tell you about myself.  I’m a returned missionary.  My entire family is Mormon—my grandparents, my aunts and uncles.  My mom died of cancer five years ago, and I had no relationship with her because of this.”  That stopped Dushku, and it stopped the legal-speak.  I said, “For whatever reason, Mormons have lots of gay babies.  I don’t know why it is, but you do.  The people who are hurt the greatest from this culture war are Mormon and Christian families with gay kids, siblings, aunts and uncles.  We have to stop this.  Our families are being torn apart.  We have to stop this, and I need your help to do it.  What are we going to do?”  That changed the whole tone of the meeting.  Dushku was quiet.  No more legal talk for the rest of the meeting.  I can’t interact with him on that level, and I can’t interact with the Church on that level.  I’m not an attorney.  I don’t speak like they do.  I don’t understand their world.  I realized that I am a gay Mormon, and regardless of my history or my anger or my lack of a testimony, these are my people, I know this language, I understand it, and I know how to move within it.  I knew I was going to be OK with this.  I was going to be able to do this and pull this off, although I didn’t know if I was going to be able to pass a bill at that point.  But I knew that I could navigate the Church and that world.

I’ll never forget—we were waiting in the lobby on the second floor of the Joseph Smith Building, and down in the lobby the pianist was playing.  I could hear the music coming up to the second floor, and it was a Mormon piano version of “Stairway to Heaven.”  I remember having this weird cognitive experience: “What kind of world am I entering into?”  Perhaps it was a sign.

But it was a really good meeting.  I spoke about my dad and how difficult it was for him to have a gay son—and particularly to have a gay activist son.  It’s something he can’t process and can’t talk to me about.  Michael was very sensitive to that and wanted to know more about it.  And so, we started talking as humans speak to each other.  We started dealing with empathy, eyeball-to-eyeball, and heart-to-heart.  I thought, “This is how I am going to talk to these guys.  It’s the only thing I know to do.”  I’m naïve and green, and I don’t know whom to trust.  I have no idea who is being honest with me and who is not.

Then, the day of the legislative session.  If you ever wonder if we live in a theocracy, go sit in the Senate for the opening day ceremony.  It’s astonishing that they all speak in the Mormon priesthood cadence.  The men stop with their emotions, contain it, and then keep going.  You know exactly what I’m talking about.  They talk about God.  There is an opening prayer by David Bednar.  I thought, “I’m just in church.  I’m sitting in church!”

Then I left, and I got an email from Michael Purdy saying, “I need to talk to you in the morning.  We have something to tell you, and I want to give you a heads-up.”  I had no idea what this meant.  I got on the phone with Dabakis, and he said, “They are going to endorse it, we think.”

Prince: This was the press conference?

Williams: Yes.  This was the press conference.

Prince: Steve Urquhart texted me the next morning about it, but he wasn’t sure what it was either.

Williams: Yes.  So that night, I wrote three press releases.  One was, “This is awesome!  This is amazing!”  One was, “We are grateful for this, but we are concerned about that.”  The third one was, “We are deeply disappointed, and blah, blah, blah.”  So I had three ready to go.

Michael called me an hour before the press conference.  I said, “Michael, what is this?”  He said, “We are going to endorse the nondiscrimination legislation, and we are going to advocate for religious liberty.”  I said, “What do you mean by that, Michael?  Do you mean for individuals?”  He said, “Troy, we want fairness for all.”  Then there was a hash tag.  Whenever the Church tries to be hip and modern, it doesn’t really come off well.  It was like, “Fairness for all.”  What do they mean by this?

They sent me a transcript fifteen minutes before the press conference started.  I was ripping through it as fast as I could, trying to pull out the essential points.  I did release a positive press release that day, because it was clear that they clearly enunciated support for nondiscrimination.  But

Prince: And the “but” is why they got shredded by the Eastern press.

Williams: Right.

Prince: The “but” was all that they focused on.

Williams: Yep.  And it was vague and murky.  When they talking about religious liberty, what were they talking about?  Inseminating lesbians?  The Mozilla CEO?  Abortion?  What were they talking about?  What does any of this have to do with a gay or transgender person being fired, or evicted from their home?  So the press conference became kind of a Rorschach Test.  Everyone projected onto religious liberty whatever they wanted to see.

I was at the Capitol and saw Gail Ruzicka, my old mentor, and she said, “Oh, I loved the press conference.  I totally agree with everything that the Church says.”  So I had this sick feeling in my gut, and I didn’t know what to make of it.  I didn’t know if I was being played, but I wanted to be positive and optimistic about it.  I called Michael again and said, “Michael, I don’t know where you are coming from.  I don’t know what you want.  What I need you to know is that my community is really suspicious of you, and if you try and pass a RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] like Arizona, where you give individuals the right to discriminate, I promise you the culture war will erupt in the streets again, and there is nothing I will be able to do to stop it.  So I need your help to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.  My community is on the edge.”

I don’t know if they knew what they wanted.  I don’t know that they had an end game.

Prince: Do you think that that press conference was even scripted by Public Affairs?  It didn’t have the feel of it to me—too sloppy.

Williams: No.  It was so bizarre.  Any goodwill that would have come from it was overshadowed by Oak’s statements about not giving apologies, and “we were the victims.”

Prince: He moved the needle backwards.

Williams: It left all of us wondering what was going on.  The gay community was started to get really nervous.  “You’re the victims?”  All the wounds started coming back again.  Then, all of a sudden, I found myself in this really bizarre place where I was the former activist who had the reputation for going after the Church, and now I was kind of defending the Church.  So the gay community became really suspicious.  “Troy, have you sold out?  Whose side are you on?”  So I was being torn, but again, you don’t make peace with your friends, and I was committed to this, and I had had all of these experiences that allowed me to work within the Mormon structure.  This was a Mormon-Republican super-majority.  If they wanted an Arizona RFRA, they could have done it easily, and there would have been nothing we could do to stop it.  Nothing.  If we wanted any bill to move forward, the cynical reality of Utah politics is that the Mormon Church has to bless it.  I felt that privately—the Private Troy, and not the Equality Utah head.  I felt like, “Really?  My civil liberties are dependent upon a religious organization?  That’s obscene.”

Prince: But it’s reality.

Williams: It’s reality.  So what are you going to do?  Are you going to be angry?  Are you going to block more doors?  Are you going to get arrested again?  What are you going to do?

Prince: And that would cause them to dig in deeper.

Williams: Right.  What are you going to do?  Are you going to bring them to the table, and are you going to work with them?  Well, that’s what I was hired to do.  I think the advantage of having me in that position is that when I tell the Church there are going to be protests around the temple again, they believe it.  And there were a couple of times when I did threaten people at certain moments in the game.

Prince: During this legislative session?

Williams: Yes.  When LaVar Christensen’s bill, HB322, moved forward—which was not part of the collaboration, which was not part of the compromise—and it moved out of the House and to the Senate, and it was on the board of the Senate an hour before the signings [of SB296 and SB297], I was like, “This is going to be perceived as a double-cross, that our community has been back-stabbed by the Church.  You have to stop this!”

I went to the Senate President—when we were arrested last year we were called the Capitol Thirteen—and I said, “I promise you, if this bill moves forward, if it is voted upon by this body, I will bring the Capitol Thirteen-Hundred up, and I will shut this place down!”  I was livid and furious and freaking out.  And finally, they did shut it down.  It was always the plan to shut it down, but I didn’t know that.  They told me that that was the plan, but I didn’t know that I could trust them.  My experience with the legislature hasn’t been golden over the years.  So I was terrified of the whole process.  And I think the Church was nervous, too.

I saw an article in the paper yesterday about Stuart Reid.  Stuart Reid was the legislator who said the final words to get me arrested.  He said to the Salt Lake Tribune that Dallin H. Oaks had stopped him from running an Arizona-like RFRA, because he was afraid that it would destroy any hope of common ground at all.

So despite the really horrific, anti-gay rhetoric through the years, I think the Church genuinely does not want to go down this path.  I think some of the members do.  I think LaVar Christensen does.  But I think the Church sees the danger of what is happening in Indiana, what happened in Arizona, and what happened in other states.

Prince: Except in Arizona, she vetoed it.

Williams: Yes, she vetoed it.  But there was outrage.  Mitt Romney came out against it.  Marriott came out against it.  Apple came out against it.  The Church does not want Goldman-Sachs, Apple, Adobe, all of these folks coming after them, and so they have wisely backed away from that.

Now, we haven’t passed a public accommodations bill.  That’s going to be the test, and it will be next year.  We had a bill, SB99, and Dabakis ran it.  We didn’t have time to get to it, and it was too contentious.  That is where we get to the issues of florists and photographers and cake-bakers.  I find it to be ludicrous and absurd that this is the battle line.  Most of the people in those industries are gay!  In my first meeting with the Church, I said, “Can I tell you what really drives me crazy?  You guys on the Christian Right are concerned about florists and bakers and wedding photographers and event planners.  Those are mostly gay people!  The gays have been helping straight people get married for decades.  We have kept the entire heterosexual marriage industry afloat!  You wouldn’t be married without us!  And now, this is the issue that you guys want to fight over?  This?  Come on!  Really?”  They all laughed, and I said, “It’s absurd, isn’t it, that this is the issue you are fighting for?”  

And then, county clerks.  This isn’t something that county clerks wanted.  SB297 was a face-saving measure.

Prince: Playing to their base.

Williams: Yes, absolutely.

Prince: OK, now go back and talk about the process between the press conference and passage of the bills.

Williams: Oh, my gosh, it was so intense!

Prince: Had SB296 been introduced by the time of the press conference?

Williams: No.  It was still SB100, a version of what we had done last year.  We sat down with Senator Stuart Adams, who kind of got assigned to this.

Prince: Assigned by whom?

Williams: [Laughter]  Yes.  That’s a great question for Senator Adams.  You should definitely interview him.  His perspective is going to be great.

Prince: Steve Urquhart introduced me to him when I was in the Senate Lounge.

Williams: Good.  So we started making the sausage, and it was intense.  We realized we couldn’t tackle public accommodations.  We couldn’t get into the florists.  We were never going to be able to make a decision that would make anyone happy.  But we could find common ground on employment and housing.  What they were asking for, ultimately, was speech protections for religious folks so that they wouldn’t get fired based on their views on sexuality or marriage or family outside of the workplace.  So this deals with the Mozilla CEO or the Peter Vidmar scenario?  There were thousands and thousands of people in Utah who were fired for supporting Prop 8?  But it worked both ways, so that if you opposed Prop 8, you couldn’t get fired for your speech.  In Utah, those protections usually fall more on us than on them.

Then there was debate back and forth about the Boy Scouts.  It was a bunch of silliness, stuff that was already codified into law.  They are already exempt.  SB297 clarified religious exemptions that just seemed petty.

Prince: Why did Steve Urquhart have to back up and resubmit SB100 as SB296?

Williams: SB296 had the new elements in it, the religious speech protection.  And then, in a historic move, Senator Adams became the co-sponsor.  We don’t have co-sponsors for legislation.  This was a bold, new thing for Utah.

Again, Cliff Rosky was the warrior at this point.  He was fighting for us every step of the way.  He was fighting with the church attorneys, and he was really protecting our community.  Cliff will never go down—unless in this book—as one of the great heroes of our movement, but he is.  He is this great warrior.

Prince: What’s his skin in the game?

Williams: Cliff is the board chair of Equality Utah, he is a constitutional law professor at the University of Utah, and he has a gay brother.  When you have a family member, you protect your family.  Something primal hits you.

Prince: Unless you’re Dallin Oaks.

Williams: Yes.  Dallin had that moment in the TribTalk interview where he talked about a member who had come to him.  “He told me that he had kicked out their child, and I rebuked him.”  He gave that little speech about how he called them to repentance, and I thought, “How about your grandson?”  Back to what Senator Madsen said: “The Church is telling me, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”  The most powerful moment of truth for me, in the legislative session, was Senator Madsen’s testimony before he voted Yes, in favor of SB296.  He said, “I am so conflicted here because I feel strong-armed by my church.  They are telling me that I should vote and do as they say, but not as they do.”

The Church has embedded, in this state more so than any other state in the nation, the broadest religious exemptions.  Mormons, and all other religious because of them, are exempt from all anti-discrimination laws.  All of them.  So Mormons technically can still fire or evict someone because they are black or in an interracial marriage.

Prince: They have no black professors at BYU.

Williams: Right.  They are absolved from this.  The Church has been very much of a mind that this is a model for the nation, but oh, no, it is not!  You do not want to copy and paste our laws onto any other state, because of these broad, religious exemptions.  You don’t want to do that.  But what I do think is important to replicate and to model is this unprecedented spirit of collaboration that created SB296.  For the first time, LGBT folks were at the table, Republicans and Democrats were working together, Mormons and non-Mormons, gay and straight folks were all working together to create a law that protected everyone and harmed no one.  That was unprecedented.  That was history making, and that should be the template in all these other states.  If they are going to pass a law dealing with religious liberty or with gay rights, those people need to be at the table.  They need to be crafting these laws.

Then, SB297 dropped a day after the press conference.  I felt ambushed.  I felt like I didn’t know what it was.  I hadn’t read it.

Prince: Was the Church behind it?

Williams: Yes.  They brought in Professor Robin Wilson, whom I had been warned about by other activists in the community nationwide.  She is a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing.  She will tell you what a great ally she is to the gay community, but SB297 was packed with things that were very harmful to our community.  No one who is allied to the LGBT community would have written a draft of the bill like that.

Prince: Did some of those get stripped?

Williams: Yes.  And this is what was really awesome about this session.  There were these horrible elements in 297.  Not just county clerks could opt out of marrying gay folks, but judges and governors and mayors—any elected government official.  It was just a slap in the face.  It was mean-spirited, unnecessary, and people saw it as double-cross.  The Human Rights Campaign had a press release ready to go, saying, “Mormon Double-Cross.”  I was like, “Hold on!  Hold on!”

Prince: Did the Church know that that was sitting there?

Williams: I told them.  I said, “This is how it is being perceived, and this is what is going to happen.”  But the good thing is that because we had established this—and it was written by Senator Adams.  

Prince: He wrote 297?

Williams: No, he sponsored it.  Professor Wilson wrote it.  So what could I say publicly?  Well, I held a press conference and I opposed the bill.  The moment where I broke—we had this amazing experience with two apostles.  I spoke right before Elder Perry spoke.  It was this amazing moment, and this photograph of me and Perry was now all over the world.  I saw it on Aljazeera, I saw it in the Washington Post.  Everyone had seen this, and then this bill dropped and I didn’t know anything about it.  The press wanted a quote from me, but I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know what to do.  I sat down and thought, “I have to oppose this.  I have to publicly denounce this bill.”  That was the moment, at home and by myself, where I broke down and cried.  I just felt betrayed.  I had already had a press conference scheduled for the next morning, Friday morning, with the Capitol Thirteen.  Equality Utah had collected 8,000 postcards in support of SB296 that we had bundled into each district, for each legislator.  So the Capitol Thirteen, who were arrested a year before, were coming to this big moment and we were handing off all these postcards to Senator Urquhart and Senator Adams, and the House Representative, Brad Dee.  It was supposed to be this good, happy moment; but the specter of 297 was there.

So I had all my people there, in front of the camera.  I had to write a press release, and I released the press release the night before and cried as I wrote it.  It said, “We adamantly oppose this bill.  This will harm our community, and it is not in the spirit of collaboration that we created 296 together with.”  So all of that just ruined this awesome moment for me.

But, Cliff Rosky went to battle, and Marina Lowe was right there with him.  They sat down, and to Senator Adams’s credit, he stripped away the bad, egregious elements of the bill.  There are actually good things in the bill now.  Every county clerk’s office now has to provide not only licenses, but also marriage ceremonies.  That was not the case before this bill.  About 50% of the county clerks’ offices provided marriage ceremonies; now they all have to.  There has to be a designated person in each county clerk’s office who performs these.  If a clerk doesn’t want to perform a gay wedding, they can’t perform any wedding at all.  It still sounds kind of petty for someone to be able to opt out like that, but it had never been the law before that they had to.

I asked the head of the Association of Counties, “How many clerks do you think are going to opt out of this?”  He made a little zero sign and said, “Zero!”

I get why 297 happened and why they had Wilson there, because Wilson provided a certain Republican cover, and 297 provided a cover for them, where they were allowed to vote.

Prince: Wilson was one of the panelists at the Brookings Institution panel.

Williams: Yes, she is trying to take credit for this.  The left-wing blogosphere has attacked Equality Utah for collaborating with her, which we didn’t do.  She was my nemesis, and I tore into her.  Even though publicly I am all shaking hands, behind the scenes it was a battle.  I wanted to protect our community, and that was paramount.  I do believe the Church is sincere in wanting this to be good.  I do believe that.  And at the end of the day, the bills passed, and they were good.  SB296 is a good piece of legislation.  Is it perfect?  No.  Do we love these broad exemptions?  Do we love the idea that religion can somehow be exempt from all this stuff?  No.  But I can’t change the First Amendment and I can’t change Utah State law.

Prince: No, but you do have one tool in your arsenal going forward, and that is that if the Church uses those carve-outs, you can shine the spotlight on it.

Williams: Oh, yes.

Prince: In the Court of Public Opinion, it will be judged guilty, and that’s the ultimate judgment against it.

Williams: Yes.

Prince: And the church leaders know that.

Williams: For sure.

Prince: I think the thing they fear most in this world is the New York Times.

Williams: You’re absolutely right.  And the NAACP and the ADL [Anti-Defamation League].

Prince: If it’s a New York Times front-page story, it moves the needle.

Williams: Absolutely.  I realize that in this battle the Church doesn’t want to be perceived as racist, and they don’t want to do anything anti-Semitic.  That came from their Holocaust-baptism thing.  It became clear to us that the NAACP and the ADL are really good allies to have when we are negotiating these things.

So it was probably the most intense period of my life.  After it passed the Senate, it went to LaVar Christensen’s committee.  He is the chairman of that committee that it was going to go through in the House.  I just had knots in my stomach that there were going to be amendments, that there were going to be these last-minute changes that would have destroyed everything.  I wasn’t sure if Equality Utah would be able to support changed legislation.  Would I have to pull out and denounce all of it?  I didn’t know what would have to happen.

Then, weirdly, all these patriarchs of my life—Gail Ruzicka was there with me all of the time, and she was talking to me all of the time.

Oh, another key moment was the night before the press conference.  The senate leadership called us in, including the Eagle Forum with Gail Ruzicka.  LaVar came.  One of the Sutherland Institute guys came.  LaVar had his bill, HB322, that would have made religion a defense against all claims of discrimination.  I hustled some of the leaders of our community together and we went to the Senate Lounge, where 296 was unveiled.  This was the night before the press conference with the Church.  I saw my mentor there from twenty years ago.  She looked ashen, exhausted, beaten down.  LaVar looked defeated, because it was presented, “This is the bill.  This is the bill the Church supports, and we are going to have a press conference tomorrow.”

Prince: Was it still going to go through his committee?

Williams: It would go there at this point, but we didn’t know that yet.  But it was that moment when I was like, “We won!”  Not that we won against the Church, because we were working with the Church; but that the gay community was at the table and was a political force.

Prince: Was the timing of the press conference engineered so it would come between the Senate and the House?

Williams: It all happened before it passed in the Senate.  So they unveiled this bill, and to have the State’s biggest homophobe, and the biggest opponent of gay anything, Gail Ruzicka, my old mentor, there, and to see what had happened, that the LGBT community was now a political player, we were now at the table for the first time in our history!

Prince: Is Gail LDS?

Williams: Oh, yes.

Prince: So she could feel that she had been defeated by her own church.

Williams: Yes.  She said to me the next day, “Troy, you know that the only reason why this is happening is because of the Church.”  I’m like, “Sorry, Gail.”  I could tell that she was kind of beaten down by it, so I went and sat down with her.  We talked about life.  I wanted to have that human moment again, and talk about her kids and her passions.  I said, “Gail, if every progressive had your passion and your zeal, this would be the bluest state in the Union.  So I do admire you, and I’m grateful for the example you set for met, that if you have passion and conviction for your cause, you fight for it.  That’s the lesson that you taught me, and I’ve carried it on.”

The first day of the legislative session, I had run into Gail and her Eagle Forum interns, these young kids that were like me twenty years ago.  I made the joke to them, “Kids, I am living proof that if you work hard, you, too, can one day be executive director of Equality Utah.”

But to see that kind of irrational homophobia and the political power behind it had waned, and the LaVar’s and the Chris Buttars’s and the Gail Ruzicka’s weren’t the ones at the table writing the legislation—

Prince: Permanently lost their power?

Williams: Yes, exactly.  That’s it.  I believe, moving forward, the new day here in Utah is that when any bill impacts our community, we are going to be there at the table.  That is what is new about this session.  Next year when we sit down to deal with the more contentious issue of public accommodations—florists, bakers, etc.—we are going to be at the table.  That is a whole, new paradigm shift.  This is a historic day for all of us.  It’s monumental.

On a personal level, the week of the votes was so crazy.  My mission president was contacting me.  My brother, who I haven’t talked to in twenty years, friended me on Facebook.  I’m talking to Gail.  And my dad, strangely and ironically, is in town the day of the votes for another reason.  It’s all kind of colliding.

And then, the night before the House vote—we passed the Senate with this huge majority, and then we had the House vote—a speech that I gave ten years ago, right after Amendment 3 passed, which was me at my inflammatory, provocative best—I was saying stuff like, “Mormons think that queers are perverts and deviants.  Well, I say these are some of our best qualities”—a transcript of this talk got emailed to every legislator before the vote.

Prince: By whom?

Williams: I guy named Stephen Graham who has an organization called the Standard of Liberty.

Prince: How large is his organization?

Williams: Probably he and his wife.  But it got emailed to every legislator.  It was actually a funny performance art piece.  After Amendment 3 passed, I said, “In the last days, we all grew up hearing the prophecy that one day the Saints would be commanded by their prophet to live polygamy again.  I promise you Mormons that on that day, we queers will stand in solidarity with you, to work together to repeal Amendment 3 so that you can live your religion!”  I was just going off.  But that landed in the In Box of every legislator.  I jumped on it immediately, and I wrote a response to every legislator and said, “There are people here who are trying to undermine this historic moment.  We have all been through angry times in this culture war that has ripped us apart.  Let’s work together and heal wounds.  Stand with me as we work for it.”  It was fine.  The only legislator who yelled at me about it was Representative Green, who voted against the bill, who is Mormon, who has a gay son.  He was the one who got into all that trouble by asking, “Is it rape if my wife is unconscious?”  He was talking about the definition of rape, and he was asking, “If my wife falls asleep and then I have sex with her, is that technically considered rape?”  Everyone was like, “What are you talking about?”  So I was like, “You are the person who is condemning me?”

So I have these breaking moments when I feel like all my past, from my radical past to Gail Ruzicka to my mission president and my family, are all compressed into one week.  All the patriarchs in my life were present, and it was all coming together.  I didn’t know what the hell was happening, but fundamentally if you commit to healing the wounds of a culture war, and healing the wounds of a society, you can’t help but heal your own wounds.  What I found myself going through in this whole process was this deep healing of everything that I had experience from my mission, from my parents, from the Church, from The Miracle of Forgiveness, from all of it.

Gail came to the signing ceremony.  I sat with her an hour that week and talked about what it was like to be a gay kid, and what it was like to grow up in the Church.  She is an ideologue, and she is blinded by that.

Prince: The lady who was the point person in Hawaii changed her mind.

Williams: I think Gail will become less tenacious about this issue.  I once joked with her, “Gail, I want to congratulate you, because you actually won the culture war.”  She said, “What are you talking about?”  “You have been talking for decades about how we are a bunch of perverts.  We can’t stay monogamous.  We are always going around and sleeping with a bunch of people and living an immoral lifestyle.  And now, all of these gays have seen how awesome your marriage is, and now they want to have what you have: fidelity, monogamy, all of these things.  You won, Gail!”  She looked at me like, “Uh huh.”…

People keep asking, “What’s next for Equality Utah?  You have achieved these two major, landmark victories, so what’s next for the movement?”  The Civil Rights Act came in 1965, and has racism left our country?  Hell no!  You had the Equal Pay Act in 1963, I think, and Utah still has the largest gender wage gap in the country.  Because you have legal equality, that does not mean that hearts and minds change.  So the work that we must continue to do is to open hearts and change hearts.  Inasmuch as that is our goal, we are very much like the Mormon Church.

(Troy Williams, March 30, 2015)

Prince: So what else is going on?

Evans: Maybe the most important thing that might come out of this legislative session is a statewide non-discrimination law.

Prince: Right.  That’s what we were talking about at that session before the December dinner at the Alta Club.

Evans: That’s correct.  We still haven’t worked it through internally, as far as the Church touch-points are concerned, but we are getting a lot closer.  I can see possibilities.  But once we get it worked through internally, then we have to sit down with the LGBT folks and see if we can all agree on what it is that we can all agree on.  It’s going to require, on both sides, some give-and-take, and maybe some significant give-and-take.  But the possibility of a model where a conservative religious community supports basic non-discrimination rights within employment and housing, and an LGBT community that supports a reasonable protection of religious conscience in the same area could be a very positive and very powerful model.

Prince: Nationally?

Evans: Yes.  And that’s where we are headed.  We could be there within days.

Prince: With the mormonsandgays.org website, the LDS Church has leap-frogged other churches.

Evans: I agree with you.

Prince: I think it is poised to be in a leadership position now that nobody would have dreamed of four years ago.

Evans: Absolutely not.  You are right.

(William Evans, February 5, 2013)

Rosky: So basically that whole story just continues until the end of 2013, and then marriage hits Utah.  It becomes very clear that now that DOMA has fallen and marriage hit Utah, that marriage is going to hit every state in the United States shortly.  Once marriage was finally legalized in Utah—not temporarily, but permanently—then that really opened up a space, because the slippery slope concern was gone now.  Marriage and gay adoption were legal in Utah.  If you are opposed to employment discrimination and opposed to housing discrimination, and your only argument is that you don’t want to legalize that because you are worried about marriage, and marriage is here, what’s the hold-up?  So that created the space, where it was easier to see where marriage was going.

(Clifford Rosky, March 31, 2015)