What are the strengths and weaknesses of the so-called "Utah Compromise," passed in March 2015, that attempts to balance antidiscrimination with religious speech protections? Some are hailing the legislation as a "template" for the rest of the country, while others conclude, "Move along folks; there's nothing to see here."

According to the New York Times, "The bill would ban employers and landlords or property owners from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, adding those categories to Utah’s laws that already protect against discrimination on the basis of race, sex and age. Religious organizations and their affiliates, such as colleges and charities, would be exempted. It also would exempt the Boy Scouts of America, which voted in 2013 to end a ban on gay scouts but still prohibits gay scout leaders. The bill also would protect employees from being fired for talking about religious or moral beliefs, as long as the speech was reasonable and not harassing or disruptive . . . 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 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." And on the other side of the aisle, "Southern Baptist leaders . . . said the Mormons' approach to the conflict between sexual rights and religious liberty is naive and unhelpful, as well as unacceptable to proponents of LGBT rights."

What do you, our readers, think?


Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board (2015) "Readers' Puzzle for Spring 2015: The 'Utah Compromise'," SquareTwo, Vol. 8 No. 1 (Spring), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ReadersPuzzleSpring2015.html, accessed <give access date>

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COMMENTS: 4 Comments

I. Michelle Brignone

The biggest strength of the Utah compromise is that both sides came together to work out a bill they could each live with. Yes, each side made compromises they probably would have preferred not making, and the bills have flaws, but the sides were able to work together without acrimony – this is and will continue to be the biggest legacy of the Utah Compromise.

Having said that however, I do have a couple of issues with the bills. While I wholeheartedly applaud ending discrimination on any grounds, and fully support protecting a churches constitutional right to administer its sacred ordinances according to its teachings without interference, the laws did not end discrimination entirely.

The first bill protects employees’ ability to talk about religion, which is nice, but there is a difference between talking about what you did at church on Sunday and preaching to someone else about their lifestyle. I am devout LDS and even I don’t like being preached at when I go to work by holier-than-thou co-workers, even in the oh-so-kind passive aggressive manner that most religious people would assume is ‘reasonable and non harassing,’ but is frequently taken differently by those being preached at. I can appreciate the protection of free speech, but hope in this case it is not abused to create a hostile work environment for others.

However, my bigger problem with the ‘Utah Compromise’ is the second bill allowing county clerks to refuse to do the job they were hired for and are being paid to do. Discipleship requires upholding the laws of the land and it also requires sacrifice, neither of which the objecting registrars are doing – they are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

First, Marion G Romney, said in the February 1973 Ensign “Latter-day Saints should strictly obey the laws of the government in which they live.  By our own declaration of faith we are committed to do so, for we declare to the world that  ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.’” (A of F 1:12.)  Dallin H. Oaks has reiterated this sentiment, “[t]here is no place in responsible citizenship for … willful law breaking of any kind (The Divinely Inspired Constitution, Feb. 1992 Ensign).

Furthermore, D&C 58:21-22 admonishes, “Let no man break the laws of the land …Wherefore, be subject to the powers that be….” Like soldiers forced to fight in war, if registrars obey the prophets and uphold the laws of the land, they will be held blameless before the Lord.

If viewed through a different lens, the absurdity of the law becomes painfully apparent.  Jesus was a carpenter – what would have happened if he refused to render his professional services to those he thought were leading sinful lives – since we are all sinners, he would not have served anyone.

Hitting closer to home, what if the ‘Utah Compromise’ had said that it was acceptable for registrars, based on their beliefs, to refuse to issue marriage licenses to Mormons?  That law would be discrimination pure and simple, just as this compromise is.  Given the history of discrimination against the early church, the Latter Day Saints, of all people, should be able to appreciate this. 

Second, if a person interprets the precepts of the gospel in such a way that would, they believe, justify discriminating against others, that person cannot expect the state to protect their unlawful actions.  Bakers across the country who refuse to sell wedding cakes to same sex couples are sacrificing their businesses and income to uphold their religious beliefs, why should the registrars be any different?

To live ones religion frequently requires sacrifice, whether it is losing business or a job because you refuse to work on the Sabbath, being passed over for promotions because you forgo office happy hours, or having your family disown you when you choose to get baptized.  The Savior, the apostles of old, the early Christian saints, and early latter-day saints endured persecution, extreme hardship, and even death for their belief in God. And everyday, Latter Day Saints make sacrifices of time, money, relationships, jobs, and prestige in order to follow the Savior. 

Indeed, the law of sacrifice is a foundational element of the gospel.  N. Eldon Tanner reminded us that “[s]acrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” (June 1981 Ensign)  Matthew promises “[e]very one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:21, 27, 29.)

These registrars flout gospel doctrine by refusing to uphold the law of the land.  If they cannot do the job for which they were hired - issuing state marriage licenses to those the state deems can legally marry - they should be fired. If they truly wanted to make a statement of faith and show their willingness to sacrifice for the Savior’s sake, they should quit.  Same sex marriage is just the latest in a string of laws that do not mesh with the teachings of the gospel, but that do not interfere with a persons ability to practice their religion.  

Don’t misunderstand me; I am not speaking against protected religious observance. Churches administering their sacred ordinances without interference, a person not being forced to enter into a same sex marriage against their beliefs, and speaking out against a proposed law are all protected by religious freedom. But once the law is in place, bakers and county registrars who have willingly entered into the commercial or governmental sphere are prohibited from discriminating based on a protected class. 

Finally, I don’t understand why Latter-day saints are getting so upset about this law, why does it matter?  The scriptures say, “[r]ender therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15). A marriage certificate issued by the state registrars office has the ‘image of cæsar,’ not Christ, and therefore is only subject to the laws of the land and will not be valid in the eternal scheme of things unless that marriage is sealed in the House of the Lord by those having authority of Jesus Christ.

A person can and must be a good citizen by upholding the laws of the land and the laws of God at the same time.  While the ‘Utah Compromise’ is a great example of how opposing sides can work together to accomplish shared goals, it stops short of ending discrimination. I would hope that if other states are using it as a model, they will rethink the opt-out provision for registrars.


II. George Handley

I believe the LDS church’s balanced support for non-discrimination of LGBT individuals and for religious liberty is the right approach. I assume whatever kinks or imperfections that exist in the law will get ironed out over time, but there is no question in my mind that this was the right thing to do. One need only look at the reaction to Indiana’s attempt to defend religious liberty without including important protections for LGBT individuals to understand how important it is to acknowledge the legitimacy of both sides of the issue. Without a balanced approach, it’s a lose-lose scenario: defenders of religious liberty and gay rights activists alike are vulnerable to accusations of animus. I am only surprised that it took such direct action by the church to get it done and that there were so few politicians who had the courage to step forward. As is often the case in the state of Utah, the state legislature—by virtue of the luxury of a Republican super-majority—tends to need some external pressure to take a more balanced approach on most issues. I look forward to the day when interventions of this sort are no longer necessary to pass legislation that meets the minimum standards of common sense.


III. Steve Cranney

I haven't looked at the wording of the law itself, but from what I've read it seems to do a fair job of what it set out to do; ultimately most of this is going to hinge on the distinction between an activity itself one considers religiously objectionable and discrimination against one's identity for purportedly religious reasons. If a photographer or somebody else doesn't want to participate in my son's Mormon baptism because they think such baptisms are an abomination unto God, (leaving aside the fact that I wouldn't want such a person to do the photos or whatever at the baptism anyway, and that therefore trying to sue them would be done more out of spite and hatred towards them than for any substantive gains to my civil rights as a Mormon), I don't think they should be forced to, and I simply would not have any desire to take away their livelihood out of a sense of retribution. Similarly, a pro-life doctor shouldn't be forced to perform an abortion, etc. The list goes on for reasonable accommodation for religion. However, the reasonable accommodation doesn't cover discrimination against me as a Mormon; for example, it doesn't matter if your religious principles make you opposed to serving me bread to eat for lunch because I'm Mormon; if we wanted you to supply the bread specifically for our eucharist and you had religious objections to that because you thought the Mormon eucharist was an apostate form of the lord's supper, then yes, I think you should have the right of refusal. Drawing the line between an activity one finds religiously objectionable and an identity that one finds religiously objectionable is tricky, and this is where the courts can hash these things out better than I could, but from what I've read the Utah compromise has largely taken first steps towards this.


IV. Ralph C. Hancock

I have written on this question at some length:

Here is a concise statement of my central concern, excerpted from the latter article:

But there is a risk inherent in this Christian citizenship, and it is a deep and subtle danger. For the language of tolerance and compromise tends to take on a life of its own, and to shade into some fuller, more idealistic commitment to “fairness,” “diversity,” “inclusiveness.” And of course there is the noble idea of equality itself that tends to transform itself into the relativistic idea of the equal “dignity” of all “lifestyles” – which of course means that the most “equal” and therefore truly worthy lifestyle is that which is “freest” in the sense of most liberated from any moral consequences, temporal or eternal.

Tolerance goes along with political “respect,” and such “respect” easily dissolves, under the pressure of a purely secular idea of human “dignity,” into “recognition” of the moral worth of lifestyles liberated from all traditional moral and religious restraints. And once this moral recognition of “diverse” lifestyles is established, well, it is the traditional moral way of life that necessarily appears to be prejudiced, “judgmental,” and irrational.

We begin with the simple necessity of compromise or “reciprocity” in political negotiation, and we tend to move to affirming morally and theologically the right of people to lead a dignified life, and then we are at least very close to affirming an idea of “dignity” very different from the more traditional, moral and religious idea we started out with. And, however great our distaste for the strident conflict of “culture wars” as these intrude on the political arena, there is no denying the fact that these two ideas of dignity are incompatible and cannot both serve ultimately as touchstones of law and public policy.