Republican Leadership Cold to Christensen’s Religious Liberty Bill

Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican - Sandy)
Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Sandy)

Lawmakers seemed cold to the news that Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper) introduced legislation that would protect religious liberties, but not members of the LGBT community – running counter to calls by leadership that compromise legislation should include protections for both groups.

“It is certainly one way to approach it,” Senator Stewart Adams (Republican – Layton) quipped, adding the legislature is “trying to work the process and hopefully be as inclusive as we can with everyone. I think at the end of the day we want to make sure we get it right and LaVar [Christensen] has one idea… I think what is required is we get as much as we can [in a bill] that protects both those who want religious liberties and those who need protection for housing and employment.”

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy) also expressed concerns, asking openly gay Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) if Christensen consulted with members of the LGBT community as part of his bill preparation. “Not anybody we know of,” Dabakis replied.

Dabakis seemed to delight at the idea that Christensen proposed the legislation without consulting stakeholders, if only because it would put one of the most extreme views out for public inspection.

“[The bill] is terrific – it is terrific!” Dabakis announced to the media. “To have that bill out there – there it is, sitting – it is the big enchilada and there it is – it is laid out there! It explains a somewhat, in my opinion, questionable view of religious liberty. But, it’s out there and it ought to be part of the discussion and I am happy to have it there. It will be on the spectrum; for me it is a little difficult to ingrain into our Utah culture – but it is out there and it is part of the discussion, and this ought to be part of the discussion.”

Adams, attempting to temper Dabakis’ rambunctious nature, nonetheless agreed with him.  “Senator Dabakis said it right – the process is to be inclusive, and Representative Christensen’s view on it is one view, and I think it’s working its way through the process – we will probably get more views as well.”

A more subdued Dabakis would add that he was optimistic on the overall fate of both religious liberty and nondiscrimination legislation.

“I think really serious people are having a lot of serious discussions,” Dabakis said. “I think we have momentum to pass nondiscrimination and religious liberties in a way we never had before, and it good for all the citizens of the state.”

On the House side, Speaker Greg Hughes (Republican – Draper) said that commenting on Christensen’s bill was premature, while Jim Dunnigan (Republican – Taylorsville) added that the House Republican Caucus was not planning to take up the issue until at least the final week of February, leaving only three weeks to pass a bill through both chambers.

Hughes would add that “at the end of the day, we like something that reflects the sentiments of the [LDS] Church, of how we want to treat people with respect. We want there to be an even and balanced approach.”

But Hughes dodged direct questions asking if Christensen’s bill was even and fair. “I believe we have a bill that is beginning the process… I am not going to stick a stake in the ground and point specifics that are in, or not in a bill right now because I just think it is too premature,” Hughes would add.

“I would like to see a bill that addresses [LGBT antidiscrimination and religious rights] together, because I don’t think they are mutually exclusive,” Hughes told the media, adding that he would prefer one bill over two.

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