Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) announced Tuesday they support a gay protections bill unanimously approved by the Salt Lake City Council, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

“The church supports these ordinances because they are fair and reasonable and do not do violence to the institution of marriage,” spokesman Michael Otterson said before city leaders voted on the measure.

The legislation introduced by Mayor Ralph Becker makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity (transgender protections) in the areas of employment and housing.

The bill sparked an outcry from conservatives when it was first introduced, including several prominent lawmakers.

“I don't think the discrimination they scream about is really real,” conservative Utah State Senator Chris Buttars, a Republican from West Jordan, told Salt Lake City-based KCPW radio. “I'm watching that to see what they try to do, and if they keep pushing it, then I will bring a bill about it.”

Governor Gary Herbert agreed, saying the measure would put the city on a “slippery road.”

“Where are you going to stop? I mean that's the problem going down that slippery road. Pretty soon we're going to have a special law for blue-eyed blondes … or people who are losing their hair a little bit,” Herbert, a Republican, said. “There's some support for about anything we put out there. I'm just saying we end up getting bogged down sometimes with the minutiae of things that government has really no role to be involved in.”

In approving the law, Salt Lake City becomes the first city in Utah to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, a move the Utah Legislature refused to do earlier this year.

Last year, after the church supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved initiative that banned gay marriage in California, the church released a statement saying it supports gay rights that do not “infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.”

Gay rights advocates in Utah took the church to mean it would not oppose a collection of proposed gay rights bills in the Legislature. But the church's silence on the bills, including one that would have enacted similar protections, doomed them.

Equality Utah, the state's largest gay rights advocate, backed the so-called Common Ground Initiative and has vowed a second attempt next year.

Gay activists won the endorsement of the church after more than two months of secret meetings with LDS leaders, who appear affected by more than a year's worth of protests and demonstrations from gay rights advocates angry at the church's involvement in Proposition 8.

The church says Becker's ordinance includes stronger exemptions for religious organizations than the proposed Common Ground language.