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Orrin Hatch, Who Once Likened Gays to Nazis, Calls for LGBTQ Rights

Orrin Hatch

Orrin Hatch has definitely evolved on the issue of LGBTQ rights.

The conservative Republican Mormon from Utah, who once said letting gay people teach children would be like letting Nazis do so, called for protection of LGBTQ Americans from “invidious discrimination” in his farewell speech to the U.S. Senate.

Hatch, who is retiring after seven terms (42 years) as a senator from Utah, said such protections can coexist with religious liberty in a pluralistic society, The Washington Post reports.

“Religious liberty is a fundamental freedom,” he told fellow senators Wednesday. “It deserves the very highest protection our country can provide. At the same time, it’s also important to [take] account of other interests as well — especially those of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Pluralism shows us a better way. It shows us that protecting religious liberty and preserving the rights of LGBTQ individuals are not mutually exclusive. I believe we can find substantial common ground on these issues that will enable us to both safeguard the ability of religious individuals to live their faith and protect LGBTQ individuals from invidious discrimination.”

Hatch said there is a lesson to be learned from his home state, which in 2015 enacted an LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination law with a broad exemption for religious organizations and their affiliates, including colleges and charities.

LGBTQ rights activists, however, are often skeptical of such exemptions, as they could allow discrimination in areas that have little or nothing to do with a religious mission — say, a church-affiliated school refusing to hire gay food service employees. And most LGBTQ advocates definitely oppose extending such exemptions to for-profit businesses.

Hatch has evolved in his ideas on LGBTQ rights. Back in the 1970s, he said gay people shouldn’t be allowed to be teachers, as they have a “psychological deficiency.” He told a group of University of Utah students, “I wouldn't want to see homosexuals teaching school any more than I’d want to see members of the American Nazi Party teaching school.” As recently as 2010, he said gays and lesbians worship politics rather than religion.

He has consistently opposed marriage equality, but in 2013 he voiced support for civil unions, and by the next year he acknowledged that nationwide marriage equality was inevitable. Also in 2013, he voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed in the Senate but did not receive a vote in the House. He did push, unsuccessfully, for religious exemptions in President Obama’s 2014 executive order banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination by companies that hold contracts with the federal government. He has received low scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard.

Hatch, now 84, did not run for reelection in November. His successor in the Senate will be another Mormon Republican, former Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

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