680-681: Stephen Urquhart – Former Utah State Senator on LDS Church Influence in the Utah Legislature

Stephen Urquhart was raised in Houston, Texas, where he and his family converted to the LDS church after the suicide of his older brother.  After serving an LDS mission in Brazil, Steve married Sara Stanley and graduated from BYU Law School — ultimately settling in St. George, Utah.

After developing a successful law career in St. George, Stephen served for 16 years in the Utah State Legislature, representing Washington County. In total, Stephen served 8 years in the Utah House of Representatives, and 8 years in the Utah Senate.

During this vast legislative career, Stephen championed legislation on several issues crucial to Utahns, including: public land use, water rights, death penalty, increasing citizen access to legal services, numerous initiatives to improve K-12 and higher education in Utah, and most recently — anti-discrimination and hate crimes legislation (LGBT), as well as the legalization of medical marijuana.

In this two-part episode, Stephen discusses:

  • Part 1: His early years in the LDS Church, and his legal and legislative careers in Utah.
  • Part 2: His experiences and reflections on the powerful influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on the Utah legislative process, and his loss of LDS faith after witnessing the negative impact of LDS LGBT policies on several people close to him.

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38 comments for “680-681: Stephen Urquhart – Former Utah State Senator on LDS Church Influence in the Utah Legislature

  1. December 12, 2016 at 10:06 am

    I am deaf. Is their a transcript somewhere of part 2 at least? Thanks!

  2. December 12, 2016 at 10:07 am

    I am deaf. Is their a transcript of at least part 2? Thank you so much.

  3. December 12, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Stephen is a very impressive guy! “Almost thou persuadest me to be an Republican”. Very impressed.

  4. Frank, be frank
    December 12, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Oh how I wish Steve had remained in the legislature [or ran for higher office]. One of the few fellow Republicans in Utah with truly good sense! Comes across as a genuinely good man.

  5. Doubting Thomas
    December 12, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    Orin Hatch…

    This man is what’s wrong with our country, and like the United States federal government, Mormonism suffers from the same geriatric leadership challenge. Leaders seduced by power and perks. Stephen sounds like a good man, but I’m flabbergasted that his admiration of Orin Hatch stems from Hatch’s ability to obliterate any serious contention to his senate seat. Like Thomas Monson, Orin Hatch is making more money in his old age than the average 30-year-old American makes in four or five years. I don’t find that admirable. I find it disgusting.

  6. Elsa LaBaw
    December 12, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    I would liked to have shared this via anonymous email but that was not an option. ????

  7. Lana Jones
    December 13, 2016 at 7:32 am

    I have never been a fan of hate crimes legislation because to me it simply doesn’t make sense. Crime is crime no matter what the motivation. I think motivation should be understood, of course, but penalizing one motivation over another one is nonsensical. It becomes “flavor of the month” favoring one type of motivation over another. Why should the prejudice, stupidity, or passion of one variety be punished more severely than another? Can anyone explain that to me?

    • Robert
      December 13, 2016 at 8:05 am

      As far as I’ve heard, the reason for hate crime legislation is that larger crimes deserve larger punishments. Why makes it a larger crime? Take these two scenarios:

      Scenario 1:
      Person A assaults Person B over some dispute at a bar. That’s against the law & the attacker will be charged.

      Scenario 2:
      Person A assaults Person B because of Person B’s inclusion in a group. Like, say Person B is gay and Person A yelled anti-gay things before and during the assault. It might make sense to say “Well, violence is against the law so leave it at that”. However, it could be argued that Person A’s actions did not only affect Person B but really affect all LGBT people who hear about it. Every person in that group would be justified in feeling terrorized and unsafe to walk down the street.

      Not sure if this is exactly right, but this is how I understand the argument.

      • Lana Jones
        December 14, 2016 at 6:57 am

        That’s like saying if you call someone a name it affects all who hear about it… that makes absolutely no sense in a world where “sticks and stones can break my bones but names and faces don’t hurt me” But in a world where people get suicidal when someone slurs them verbally; I guess then it makes sense. I grew up in a “sticks and stones” world. I don’t understand how people can get worked up over words…. and I grew up as a minority race where we frequently raced home from the school bus to avoid confrontation due to race. I was taught to believe in my own self-worth, that my own self-worth could not be defined by someone else. People are giving away far too much power to others to “control” how they view themselves. It’s way too much power.

    • Derek
      December 13, 2016 at 10:46 am

      May I ask if you are a white woman? If so, then this concept may be difficult to comprehend, but hate crimes are duel targets. They target a specific individual as well as a population. I think it is acceptable and desirable to correct biases in our justice system and when something is classed as a hate crime it carries a stiffer penalty because it is both a crime like all crime as well as a blanket crime against a particular group for the purpose of marginalizing those who are already marginalized by the privileged in a society…. the most privileged in Utah would be white, wealthy, Mormon males.

      • Lana Jones
        December 14, 2016 at 7:04 am

        Derek, privilege is as privilege does. I refuse to give power to other people to determine how I view myself. It’s one thing to understand how things came to be the way they are. But to use that as an excuse for my own self is not acceptable for me. An explanation is not an excuse. I think that by penalizing crimes differently according to motivation causes society to elevate some crimes “above” others. What if I hate my step-mother enough to kill her? Is that hate going to carry less of a penalty? Of course it will. What if I hate someone because I am jealous of him/her? Enough to kill? Will that killing be treated differently? Of course it will under the common “hate crimes” legislation. It shouldn’t. Hate is hate. Especially when enough to kill or otherwise commit crime.

        • Gary
          December 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm

          Laura, thanks heavens that you understanding the law is not required. Sure you probably dont understand most tax or libel legislation either – so why dont you challenge them? Or maybe you dont get what generational, hundreds of years positive biased legislation has engendered? The law has to balance out hatred it perpetuated for hundreds of years and they way it does it is establishing balance and distinguishing between a simple criminal act and a criminal act motivated by hate.

      • Lana Jones
        December 14, 2016 at 7:10 am

        My advice would be to start your own religion where you can elevate whomever you want to to whatever rank you want. Will you then feel “unmarginalized”? Stop giving them power over you. Define yourself however you want to and associate with those people whom share your definition of things. You can create your own network, your own society within a society. It isn’t rational to expect everyone to share your view of things. Utah is only one of many places in the US. Maybe someplace else would be much less “marginalizing”. It is a free country after all, isn’t it?

        • Lana Jones
          December 14, 2016 at 7:18 am

          Steve,
          The need to establish a motive goes to proving that the actual deed occurred. Eg: George had a motive to kill because he wanted the life insurance policy. I understand what you are saying about the “mens rea” The problem with “hate crime” legislation is that it punishes a specific variety of hate more than other varieties. Hate is hate and you punish it all the same or not. Why should the hate I feel for a step parent, should it go so far as murder, be any less punished than the hate felt for a homosexual, should it go so far as murder. That’s the only fair way to do it. Otherwise we create “hate flavors” that are elevated above other kinds of hate.

  8. Robert
    December 13, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Great interview. I’m not Republican but it’s people like Stephen Urquhart that make me believe I could vote Republican from time to time. I love his philosophy of being OK with disagreement and the willingness to bring all stakeholders to the table in order to hash out a compromise. That’s exactly what politics is supposed to do. It’s a great model for getting things done instead of demonizing everyone on the other side.

    • Q
      December 13, 2016 at 8:36 am

      I agree completely with your assessment. Donald Trump supporters who supposedly like hearing someone “tell it like it is” would do well to listen to Stephen Urquhart to hear what that actually looks like. It’s so much more than insulting the people you don’t like, but rather being honest about where you stand, and being able to see the good and bad in those you work with.

  9. Matt Harmer
    December 13, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Steve,

    I stumbled across this and am really excited to listen. I am only 20 minutes or so in so far, so I haven’t heard if you are in Salt Lake or St. George these days. I am in SLC and would love to reconnect. Thanks for all your service and I hope you are doing well. Shoot me an email – mattharmer@gmail.com.

  10. Nancy
    December 13, 2016 at 9:05 am

    This episode has been very informative. For years as a parent I felt like the LDS church’s actions made me have to choose between my LGBT child and them. It became increasingly difficult to justify their anti gay actions. Finally like you Steve I chose my child. It’s sad the LDS church put people like you and I (and countless others) in that position. But it was a matter of integrity for me as it was for you. I wish you the best of luck in your future plans. Whatever they are, with your attitude, I’m sure they will be successful.

    • Doubting Thomas
      December 13, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Nancy,

      I would just say that along with integrity, it is love that makes it an easy choice to choose our loved ones over the church. The love of Heavenly Father is best discovered by parents who love their children without conditions. By doing so, it becomes possible for us to just begin to understand how much God loves us. (This is what I believe.) Mormonism goes contrary to Christ-like love more often than not.

  11. cl_rand
    December 13, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    How many horrid missteps do the brethren get to take before everyone must admit two things? #1 – God is not leading the way and #2 – The “one and only” claim is laughable braggadocio.

  12. Steve Urquhart
    December 13, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Sorry I’m so slow to respond. After the interview, John raced me to the airport to catch a plane to Tanzania, where I am currently.

    Thanks for the kind words and thoughts. Matt, I would love to reconnect. Will email you. (And would love to meet anyone else who wants to be a friend. Can’t have too many of those!).

    Doubting Thomas, sure, I have my issues w Senator Hatch. (Of course, after 40 years in the Senate, right?). But, other issues aside, I believe he is a tremendous balance of a classy statesman, a fundamentally good person, and a tough bastard. I think all 3 are important qualities for a member of the most important deliberative institution on the planet.

    Lana, though people of good will might not agree with the reasoning, hate crimes legislation is intended to more accurately punish the actual crime committed. Criminal law 101: we punish a criminal intent when it is coupled with a criminal act (and mostly
    vice versa). Therefore, many crimes are “thought crimes.” If, for example, you didn’t form a criminal intend to rob, you didn’t rob, even though you unthinkingly walked out of the store with the bread.

    The criminal intent (to use a little Latin to make this seem smarter–the “mens rea”) in a hate crime is different than the lesser crime: the intent is to hurt an individual AND hurt a broader community. Both intents should be punished when coupled with a criminal act (“actus rea”).

    If someone paints a smiley face on an underpass, that act of mere graffiti is a lesser intent than painting a swastika on a synagogue. In the latter case, the intent is to (1) graffiti a building and (2) assault Jews who know what the symbol is intended to represent.

    Lastly, isn’t John Dehlin amazing?!

    • Greg Mathis
      December 13, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Tanzania, sounds fun, hope you have family with you.

      Thanks for sharing more of your story, I loved the interview. Also thanks for helping me dip my toes into the political arena, I would not have been motivated to do so without your influence and passion for such matters.

      Finally, thank you for representing me and my family so well for 16 years. We have both come a very long way in our journey in life, and I am honored to call you a friend.

      Lastly…Dehlin is amazing, however as my father the old pioneer dutchman likes to say; no matter how thin you pour the pancake, it will never be finished untill you flip it over and check the other side! He couldn’t be him without willing guests such as you!

    • Lana Jones
      December 14, 2016 at 7:18 am

      Steve,
      The need to establish a motive goes to proving that the actual deed occurred. Eg: George had a motive to kill because he wanted the life insurance policy. I understand what you are saying about the “mens rea” The problem with “hate crime” legislation is that it punishes a specific variety of hate more than other varieties. Hate is hate and you punish it all the same or not. Why should the hate I feel for a step parent, should it go so far as murder, be any less punished than the hate felt for a homosexual, should it go so far as murder. That’s the only fair way to do it. Otherwise we create “hate flavors” that are elevated above other kinds of hate.

      • Jeremy
        December 14, 2016 at 12:20 pm

        Lana,

        To give some perspective on your question: “Why should the hate I feel for a step parent, should it go so far as murder, be any less punished than the hate felt for a homosexual”

        The “hate” you feel for your “step parent” that leads you to murder, could only be directed to one person, your “step parent”. While “hate” directed to a class of protected individuals, e.g. “homosexuals”, could lead you to murder anyone in that class of protected individuals, e.g. any homosexual. In my humble opinion, it is in the interest of a civil society to specifically punish “hate” against entire groups of people, regardless of their individual merit, characteristics, faults, contributions, etc. At some point, we as a society, can say this action, or that ideology is more harm than good, i.e. it is causing too much pain and suffering.

  13. El Aurian
    December 13, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Very interesting and enjoyable interview. Thanks so much to John and Steve.

    I’m so glad that you talked about the church’s support of the Anti-discrimination legislation. It angered me to watch Tom Perry in photo ops shaking hands with leaders of the LGBT community, then give a stridently anti-gay Conference speech a few weeks later. Conference speeches go through the Correlation Committee, so Mr. Perry must have drafted that speech before those photo ops occurred. It just reeks of duplicity to me. Steve, during the interview, you mentioned several times that the Church wanted to exert influence quietly. Do you really believe that this was a simple change of heart, rather than a calculated measure by the Church leadership to diffuse criticism about their anti-gay policies?

    Thanks again for being willing to share your accounts and your insights!

    • Steve Urquhart
      December 14, 2016 at 5:22 am

      The leadership of the Mormon Church is seriously divided on LGBT issues. Thus, it is of two minds on LGBT issues, pro and con, both of them very sincere. With the Prophet ailing, the individual apostles fight to prevail on the issue. Thus, we see the one-step-forward, one-step-backward approach. (Neither hot nor cold).

      Hate crime legislation was killed in 2016 by a press release from the Media Department, without the Government Relations Department knowing in advance that it was going to happen. That, of course, is not how the Church has tended to operate in the past. It suggests that a senior apostle told someone in the Media Department to send out the missive immediately, and who was the Church employee to say no?

      Since Elder Nelson later canonized the November policy to make it the November Prophecy, and since Elder Oaks’s jeremiad is that Mormon’s religious liberties are under unprecedented assault in the USA, it seems the 2 most-senior apostles likely are leading the pullback.

  14. Randy
    December 13, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    I loved every moment of this interview. . .except one. Steve said …. paraphrasing. . .. .that some day the church will allow same sex sealings in the temple. OK with all due respect, Steve, if you went on a mission . .. I’m surprised you said that. I went on a mission in 1987-1989 so I’m close to your age. I know you appreciate conceptual grappling so I’ll throw it out right here. . . the LDS church teaches that God is a man with body parts and passions. The church teaches (perhaps tacitly) that we are conceived in the pre-existence in the same manner humans on earth conceive. First we are born as spirit bodies in the pre-existence. Then we come to earth to take on a physical body. To get to the point, it would be impossible for humans to be conceived and born in the pre-existence from gay parents.
    Mormonism is broken at its foundation if you allow same sex sealings. It’s the primary distinguishing doctrine from most (if not all) other forms of Christianity. As God is, man once was. As God is man may become. . .

    • MTB
      December 15, 2016 at 8:22 am

      I heard Steve say that the church could be forced to perform same sex sealings in the temple IF they absolutely refuse to give up any ground on same sex policies and/or legislation (as they could lose their exempt status?). He then went on to say that the First Amendment is so strong in the U.S. that the church will never be forced to perform same sex marriages (and that Steve would be a defender of the church’s right to NOT perform same sex marriages in the temple).

      I could certainly be wrong, but this is what I recall hearing.

      • Randy
        December 15, 2016 at 9:26 am

        “There’s a zero percent chance that gay folks are going to be married in the temple if the church doesn’t want it. Now I think gay couples will be married in the temple because the church will lose itself, it will lose its membership, if it doesn’t fully evolve on this issue.”
        Part 2, 1:23:30

    • Randy
      December 16, 2016 at 1:12 am

      To take it a step further, if the church allows same sex sealings, it would follow that Heavenly Father, the God that the twelve pray to and you (if you pray) pray to and I pray to was potentially sealed to a man in His mortal existence. Of course He would have a wife, or, more likely, wives for child creation. But God our Father could have a sealed relationship with another dude. So Heavenly Father, if gay dealings are allowed, could be married to many wives and one or more men.
      If the church changes the doctrine, every faithful member will have that in the back of their minds. “The God I’m praying to may have a gay lover.”
      Can someone help me down off this crazy circus ride??

  15. RIO CRUZ
    December 14, 2016 at 9:54 am

    The problem with church meddling in state is that the foundational beliefs…and many of the ancillary beliefs held by religions…are often based on non-rational prejudices and ideas. If a particular religion wants to impose certain parts of its belief system onto non-believers, I have no problem with that as long as what is being imposed is rational. But often, what is being imposed is not rational and should not have force of law.

    For example… The whole gay marriage issue was mostly about religious people–motivated by their non-rational religious dogma–trying to discriminate against people whom they deemed “unacceptable.” In case after case that went before federal courts, the anti-gay marriage folks lost because the courts found their arguments to lack rationality. Here are a few examples:

    Judge Robert J. Shelby, Utah
    “The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason. Accordingly, the court finds that these laws are unconstitutional.”

    Judge Richard Posner, Indiana.
    “Do you have a single rational basis for your state’s anti-gay-marriage law? I don’t see one. Who is being helped by gay marriage bans”?

    When Samuelson claims that “society” is helped by gay marriage bans, Posner pushes back: How is it being helped? You’re not trying to force homosexuals into heterosexual marriage. So what is the harm of allowing these people to marry? Does it hurt heterosexual marriage? Does it hurt children?

    Judge John G. Heyburn, Kentucky
    “Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons. The Court cannot conceive of any reasons for enacting the laws challenged here. Even if one were to conclude that Kentucky’s laws do not show animus, they cannot withstand traditional rational basis review… Indeed, to date, all federal courts that have considered same-sex marriage rights post-Windsor have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights. This Court joins in general agreement with their analyses.”

  16. Bert
    December 14, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Absolutely fascinating interview. Thank you, Steve.

  17. Richard Pecjak
    December 14, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    Amazing man and I’m not a big fan of Mormons or Republicans. I’d vote for him any day. Great interview. The church is losing some very worthy people.

  18. Mensch
    December 15, 2016 at 12:12 am

    The audio suggests that there is a video of these episodes. Is that coming?

  19. RLeeG
    December 16, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Loved the interview Steve and John. Good stuff.

    I was intrigued with idea that Steve didn’t have any problem with the church throwing into the political arena. I am torn with this idea, because the church wields so much control over the way so many people will vote. I just can’t get past the idea that I think it is wrong for a church to press any politician to vote a certain way, or make statements to its member to vote a certain way. Of course church’s will take stances on issues. But they do so indirectly through setting doctrine that will certainly influence a member’s view on law and policy. But the church seems to go much further than that. The church wields over its members a certain power that no corporation has. No corporation I have worked for ever had much influence over my voting decisions. A church that claims to have a man that talks to God, whose members believe such, will often vote according to what that church tells them, regardless of how they may feel personally. Obviously there are also many who won’t, but certainly they have a heavy influence over a majority of active members. That is a very different dynamic and relationship than just any old corporation defending its interests. I have changed jobs several times over the years, for happiness, for stress, for money, etc. Most people’s loyalty to their company is not even in the same stratosphere as their religion. I think it’s dangerous ground that can have dangerous consequences.

    Do you agree with this argument Steve? Or perhaps am I overstating the church’s efforts or control?

  20. Jon
    December 17, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Love the idea of getting rid of licensing of lawyers (not sure if that is what the guest was advocating for exactly, but less regulation). Lysander Spooner got rid of the licensing of lawyers in Massachusetts back in the mid 1800s. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for it to reappear. Now, if we could do the same with doctors, etc. If we had a free market in medicine we would see a severe drop in the cost of medical care. Without the regulations we would see far more advancements in medicine. It’s unfortunate people have made government their god as if it can fix all problems – a rather authoritarian approach – the same thing people dislike about the church they embrace with government. You know who can fix problems, people, if you let them.

  21. Wondering Wanderer
    December 18, 2016 at 2:13 am

    Steve, Thank you for sharing your knowledge, experience, and opinions. This was extremely informative, thought provoking, enjoyable, and enlightening. I learned a great deal and you changed my outlook on a few things. You are a stand up guy with a positive attitude and a generous heart.

    I completely understand your choice to leave the church. I used to have two gay relatives. One committed suicide at age 15. This issue is up close and personal, it is real people, it is loved ones I admire and respect, it is a matter of quality of life, and life and death for many. A lot of things can be ignored, rationalized away, or accepted for the sake of solidarity, but this issue supersedes any loyalty to the church and any inclination to follow the brethren, be they right or wrong, as taught by the church. I have been inactive for about twelve years, but I was never ashamed to have ever been a Mormon until Nov 2015. That “revelation” was totally lacking in inspiration and devoid of Christlike love. The cynical, hypocritical follow-up explanation that it was done out of love and concern for the children was enraging. I called my one remaining gay relative to apologize for the church, to make it known that I was no longer associated with the church, and that the Mormon church did not represent my views.

    I remember a time when the Mormon church expressed pride that it never told its members how to vote or whom to vote for, but stayed out of politics and let its members decide on their own and exercise their free agency. I thought that was the right thing to do. The founding fathers of our country wisely called for a separation of church and state to prohibit the government from establishing one approved religion and banning others. They should have made it a two-way street including the prohibition of any religions from establishing control of the government. It worries me how the lines are becoming so blurred between religion and politics.

  22. Steve Park
    December 28, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Fascinating interview and a really good get, John! Would it be possible for you to interview Mark Madsen also? I’d love to get his thoughts in depth on medical marijuana and how the church impacted his proposed legislation.

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