SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law on Thursday a bill barring discrimination in the workplace or housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, while guaranteeing protection of religious freedom.
The bill, backed by the Mormon Church and hailed by supporters in the politically conservative state as a model for the nation, was signed by the Republican governor during a ceremony in the packed rotunda of the Utah state Capitol building.
Specifically, the new law prohibits gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender individuals from being discriminated against by their landlords or employers.
Religious organizations would be exempt from those provisions, which add to existing statutes that already barred housing and employment bias on the basis of race, sex, age and other factors.
The measure also says the law “may not be interpreted to infringe upon the freedom of expressive association or the free exercise of religion” protected under the U.S. Constitution.
It also says that individuals may express religious or moral beliefs and commitments in the workplace “in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way.”
Gay rights activists embraced the measure as a landmark achievement for civil liberties.
“Witnessing a pro-LGBT law pass in one of the country’s most conservative states is an almost surreal experience,” said Marina Gomberg, a member of the executive committee of Equality Utah, a gay rights organization. “This marks a new day, one of hope, fairness, compassion and compromise.”
The state’s predominant religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave its blessing to the measure, even as the Mormon faith adhered to its doctrine that marriage is a union solely reserved for a man and woman. Church members account for more than 60 percent of Utah residents and more than 80 percent of state lawmakers.
In a statement, the church said the legislation “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.”
The Utah House of Representatives adopted the bill on a 65-10 vote on Wednesday night, following state Senate passage last Friday, 23-5.
The Human Rights Campaign counted Utah as the 19th state to expressly ban housing and workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Tait