HB66, HJR5: Utah officiators could cite religious beliefs to refuse to marry same-sex couples

By Cassidy Hansen and Emily Larson
Capital West News Service

SALT LAKE CITY— A Lehi Republican lawmaker is proposing both a resolution and bill calling for a change to the Utah Constitution and law that would allow anyone to refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples if the marriage is contrary to the officiator’s beliefs.

Rep. Jake Anderegg’s has filed a resolution, HJR5, and a bill, HB66, to put a constitutional change on the 2016 ballot as well as modify the Utah code. The Utah Legislature opens its 2015 session here on Jan. 26.

anderegg

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi.

The language of both measures is similar. For example, amending the state constitution would broadly protect religious groups and religious individuals from performing or recognizing any rite, ceremony or service that the specified groups determine to be inconsistent with their beliefs. If passed in the upcoming legislative session, Utah citizens would vote on the constitutional amendment in the 2016 election.

When contacted, Anderegg said that he could not comment on the resolution and bill because they are undergoing revisions. During the 2014 legislative session, a similar bill, HB231, was introduced but was never passed. The 2015 bill and resolution come just months after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court’s decision that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, allowing same-sex couples to be married in Utah.

The two proposed measures have already drawn criticism from an LGBT spokesman and a lawyer with the ACLU of Utah.

“The First Amendment (of the Constitution) already provides religious protections. Churches and synagogues will never be forced to marry people not of their faith. The LGBT community respects the rights of religious institutions,” said Troy Williams, executive director with Equality Utah.

If HJR5 and HB66 were to pass as drafted, the LGBT community is more concerned about unintentional consequences. Those could include the denial of basic rights, such as marriage, by qualified federal employees on the foundation of personal religious beliefs. Other consequences include the denial of access to venues, programs and services that receive monetary federal assistance.

“Hypothetically, under this proposed bill, a Catholic justice of the peace could use (his or her) religious beliefs to deny marrying a couple who had previously been divorced. Is that a path we want to follow? Of course not,” Williams said. “A public servant whose salary is paid by our tax dollars should not be allowed to use their religion as an excuse to refuse someone needing services.”

Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel with the ACLU’s Utah chapter, said, “HB66 is constitutionally problematic in particular because it allows public officials to pick and choose which marriages to solemnize based on religious belief.”

The perception of gay rights and religious rights being mutually exclusive continues to become an issue in Utah not only within the realm of law, but also socially with the creation of TLC’s reality show “My Husband’s Not Gay,” which depicts four men, who while attracted to other men, do not identify as gay because of religious beliefs.

Williams said, “Our concern is always equal protection under civil law and equal access to the public sphere . . . We believe that the rights of gay and transgender Americans can happily coexist with people of faith. Many gay and transgender Utahns, are in fact, people of faith,”

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