A hate crime bill has been defeated in Utah – after the powerful Mormon Church claimed that it would harm ‘religious freedom’.

The  Hate Crimes Amendments bill was voted down in the Republican-dominated state legislature this week by a 17-11 vote.

The bill was fairly standard hate crime legislation, expanding the field of protected characteristics from “religion, ancestry, national origin or ethnicity” to “ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation“.

Despite simply protecting people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the same way that religion is already protected, the dominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is based in Utah, strongly opposed the legislation.

Church leaders claimed it failed to maintain a “balance” between LGBT rights and religious freedom, though it’s unclear how a ‘religious freedom’ exemption in hate crime legislation could possibly work beyond letting gay-bashers argue that God told them to beat up gay people.

Despite valiant attempts to pass the bill from Republican state senator Steve Urquhart, the majority of his party colleagues closed ranks at the behest of the church.

All 17 of the senators who voted down the bill were Republicans. Utah has just five Democratic senators, all of whom had backed Mr Urquhart’s legislation.

Mr Urquhart said he had been courting a number of Republican senators who were considering backing the bill before the Church came out swinging against it.

He told the Salt Lake Tribune: “I felt that we were going to pass hate crimes through the process… and after their statement, there was really no way.

“I lost this battle and I’m bummed, but we’re going to win this war on hate crimes. There’s no doubt.

“Look at where we are as a state and society compared to 10, 20, 30 years ago… we know how that’s going to turn out. It’s just a question of when we get there.”