Feb 19, 2016

Mormon Senator criticizes LDS church, apologizes to state

FEBRUARY 18, 2016

Salt Lake City — (KUTV) His words were brief, startling and unmistakable.

State Sen. Steve Urquhart, a Mormon, criticized his own church for its stance on hate crimes legislation he is sponsoring, insisting the measure would better protect not just gays, but a wide range of people from different religions and races.

"I apologize to the Jewish community and to the State of Utah that legal protections will not be provided against such threats, because of a press release issued by my church," said Urquhart, flanked by LGBT activists and several representatives of other religions.

Urquhart's comments were just one day after the LDS Church came out against his new hate crimes bill.

"The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights," the church said in a statement. "Interests from both ends of the political spectrum are attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained."

Lawmakers in 2015 passed a bill banning discrimination against gays in housing and employment, but also protecting workers who express their religious beliefs in, and outside the workplace.

Urquhart maintained his new measure -- which would enhance criminal penalties for crimes motivated by hate -- is balanced.

"It is our church which has specifically rejected that balanced approach."

Mormon legislators seldom, if ever, are publicly that blunt.

Asked if the bill is now dead, as Urquhart suggested, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser pledged it will get its day before the upper body.

"That bill is going to come up," said Niederhauser. "It will get a vote in the Senate."

He speculated the LDS Church statement may have swayed a couple of senators to vote against the measure, but significant opposition had developed even before the church took a public stance.

"When I was a child in a dark situation, the Mormon Church shined a light in my life," said Urquhart. But he said the "light has flickered on LGBT issues," adding that with the recent press release, "that light went out."

2News contacted the LDS Church Public Affairs Office, asking if it had a statement in response to Urquhart. We were told, at least for the time being, it has no statement.


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