March 12, 2015 / 4:57 AM / 2 years ago

Anti-bias bill supported by Mormon Church passes in Utah legislature

(Reuters) - Lawmakers in conservative Utah on Wednesday passed a landmark anti-discrimination bill, with the backing of the Mormon Church, they say will prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation while also protecting religious freedom.

The measure, which supporters hailed as a model for the nation, prohibits employers, landlords or property owners from discriminating against job applicants or tenants based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, but provides protections for religious expression.

The state's House of Representatives voted in favor of the measure 65 to 10 on Wednesday night, following their counterparts in the state Senate who passed it last Friday, according to the state legislature's website.

The bill proposes adding sexual orientation and gender identity clauses to the state's existing anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment, which already prohibit bias on the grounds of race, sex, age and other factors.

It says the law "may not be interpreted to infringe upon the freedom of expressive association or the free exercise of religion" protected by the Constitution. The bill says employees may express religious or moral beliefs and commitments in the workplace "in a reasonable, non-disruptive, and non-harassing way."

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports the bill. It praised lawmakers for striving to strike a balance between many competing concerns.

The proposal would exempt the Boy Scouts of America, which voted in 2013 to end a ban on gay youth members but still bars gay scout leaders.

The bill now moves to Republican Governor Gary Herbert's desk, and he is expected to sign it on Thursday.

Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco

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