A bipartisan-backed bill that would extend anti-discrimination protections to Arizona LGBTQ citizens at the state level for the first time is garnering support from notable religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
According to the Associated Press, the bill’s co-sponsors, Arizona Republican House speaker Rusty Bowers and Democrat Rep. Amish Shah, introduced the legislation during a press conference Monday outside the Arizona State Capitol. The bill would ad sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes and provide housing, employment and public accommodation protections to those populations. The bill also includes provisions banning licensed health care professionals from practicing conversion therapy.
“The coalition supporting this are people from so many walks of life coming together based on values of fairness and freedom for all,” Shah said. “I hope we can be unified in a respectful dialogue moving forward,” Bowers added. “I don’t anticipate a rose-strewn path ahead of me.”
Mormon Church, Others Offer Support
A surprising part of the coalition mentioned by Shah is the number of religious organizations that voiced support for the legislation. Both the Episcopal Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints publicly backed the bill in quick succession.
“The Church is pleased to be part of a coalition of faith, business, LGBTQ people and community leaders who have worked together in a spirit of trust and mutual respect to address issues that matter to all members of our community,” the Mormon church said in a statement. “It is our position that this bipartisan bill preserves the religious rights of individuals and communities of faith while protecting the rights of members of the LGBTQ community, consistent with the principles of fairness for all.”
The preservation of “religious rights” points to why the bill has recieved support from religious institutions. While the bill prevents anti-LGBTQ discrimination in many public places and civic sectors, it does carve out protections for said institutions to allow them to deny service to LGBTQ individuals. These religious exemptions would not be extended to individuals, meaning Christian private business owners would still be prevented from denying service to LGBTQ people.
“This bill means that every Arizonan can be viewed just for who they are, for who God made them in the image of God, and not be discriminated against,” The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona’s Bishop Jennifer Reddall told the Associated Press.
The Mormon church’s support for the bill comes during a testy period for its relationship with LGBTQ populations. Brigham Young University, which is operated by the Mormon church, recently banned protests on the Y Mountain landmark that overlooks the campus as well as on-campus protest actions that “contradict or oppose” Mormon doctrine or policy. The Y Mountain ban was enacted one year after LGBTQ advocates lit the giant Y in rainbow colors as part of a pro-LGBTQ student demonstration.
A lawsuit filed by LGBTQ BYU students against the university alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was dismissed by the Department of Education on Thursday. The DOE’s Office of Civil Rights stated the case was dismissed “because the university is exempt from the regulatory provisions of Title IX” because of its religious affiliation rather than proof that refuted the students’ complaint.
The bill’s fate remains unknown currently. Despite having the support of a top conservative official in the state legislature and segmenting protections for religious organizations, there is doubt that the heavily Republican governing body will support pro-LGBTQ protections. Bowers was non-committal on if he would hold a vote on the bill if it doesn’t receive support from a majority of House Republicans.
Arizona LGBTQ: Previously on Towleroad
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