SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Amid criticism that it opposes legislation that would beef up hate crime laws in Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declared this week it does not oppose laws that protect all individuals from hate, including LGBTQ groups.
The Church’s chief lobbyist and former Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens told ABC4 News Thursday the faith generally does not take a stance on legislative measures, but reserves the right to weigh in on them when they represent “moral issues.” (The Church recently lobbied hard against Proposition 2, approved by the people of Utah to legalize medical marijuana).
Thursday, Stephens said it’s wrong for anyone to blame the Church for stalled hate crime legislation, which has been introduced every year in the state legislature since 2015.
“We are not opposed to a piece of hate crimes legislation in the state of Utah,” Stephens told ABC4 News.
But in 2016, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was accused of quashing a bill sponsored by then-Senator Steve Urquhart to strengthen protections for minority groups – particularly LGBTQ individuals. Then, the Church said the bill did not “strike a balance” between the rights of LGBTQ people and the Church’s right to religious freedom. Since then, LGBTQ groups, including Equality Utah, have blamed the LDS Church for stalling progress on stronger hate crime laws in Utah.
“There’s more speculation that the Church is holding this up, or somehow opposed to this,” Stephens told ABC4 News. “We just decided that we wanted to clear the air before the session started, and let people know where the Church stood on this issue,” he said.
It’s expected Senator Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City) will reintroduce a measure to stiffen penalties for hate crimes this session.
Despite the LDS Church’s strong stance against same-sex marriage, Stephens said it supports the rights of all, declaring that all people “are sons and daughters of God.”
“No group should be targeted for their beliefs with criminal activity,” he said.
In 2015, the Church supported a “compromise bill” that became a law which prohibited discrimination of LGBTQ groups, while also protecting religious groups opposed to homosexuality.
Stephens added that in his view, the Church is criticized whether it weighs in on legislation or not.