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Advocates Respond to LDS Church's Opposition to Hate Crimes Bill

Nicole Nixon

Supporters of a new hate crimes bill held a press conference Thursday in response to a statement from the Mormon church opposing it. Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart’s bill would add sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the list of protections under Utah’s existing hate crimes law.

Troy Williams of Equality Utah told reporters that it is time to update a law that has failed to protect some vulnerable groups over the last two decades.

“There have been over 1,200 attacks against people of faith, against different ethnic communities, and yes, against LGBT individuals, but there have been zero prosecutions,” Williams said.

District attorney Sim Gill said that’s not because he doesn’t want to prosecute hate crimes.

“It’s because we do not have the tools to do that. We cannot deliver on the promise as a society, as a matter of public policy, that these kind of crimes will not be tolerated.”

He also noted that more of those hate crimes were directed against people because of their faith than because of their sexual orientation.

Earlier this week leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement warning against upsetting what it called the balance between LGBT rights and religious freedom that was achieved through last year’s anti-discrimination law. That bill was also championed by Urquhart.

Backed by equality advocates and leaders of local Baptist, Catholic and Episcopal churches, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, stood up for his hate crimes bill.

“I will not allow last year’s tremendous accomplishment to be used to stop further progress on civil rights in Utah,” he said.

Urquhart is himself an active Latter-day Saint, and he invited the Church’s leaders to discuss the bill with him and allow him to clear up misconceptions he believes they have about how the bill protects religious freedom.

Senate Bill 107 was passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week. The full Senate could consider the bill next week.

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