Utah House expected to consider similar measure soon
SALT LAKE CITY A proposed ban on gay clubs in Utah high schools is stalled in the state Senate.
The Senate Education Committee heard testimony on the measure Monday, but didn’t take a vote. It was the second time the bill, sponsored by Senator Chris Buttars, a Republican, has been held up. Buttars has been out sick most of the session and missed the hearing.
It’s unclear if anything will happen without Buttars. Senate leadership has said there are more pressing pieces of legislation.
Senator Dan Eastman, a Republican, said that without Buttars, it was impossible to answer some of the questions Senate Bill 97 presents, so holding the bill seemed appropriate.
Senator Scott McCoy, a Democrat, the Senate’s only openly gay member, said the lack of committee action makes him optimistic the bill will die.
“They had every opportunity to move the bill out and to the board and they didn’t do it,” said McCoy, who is not on the education committee, but listened to Monday’s presentation. “To me that says that a decision has been made not to move the bill forward.”
But it may not be the end of the issue.
A similar House bill from Representative Aaron Tilton, a Republican, was expected to get a hearing on Wednesday. Tilton would require students to get a parent’s consent for club participation. It would also impose a rating system on clubs to warn parents about ones that might deal with objectionable issues.
Tilton said he would detail the rating system on Wednesday.
Tilton and Buttars have said their proposals are not an attack on gay clubs.
Both measures would give school districts criteria they could use to ban any club that encourages criminal conduct, promotes bigotry or involves human sexuality. They define such clubs as “promoting or encouraging self-labeling by students in terms of sexual orientation” and “disclosing attitudes or personal conduct of students or members of their families regarding sexual orientation, attitudes or beliefs.”
Steven Peterson, the associate executive director for the Utah School Boards Association, told the Senate committee that the legislation isn’t needed because existing rules already cover school club formation.
“This bill is convoluted, confusing and an unnecessary encroachment on the board,” Peterson said.
Margaret Plane, legislative director for Utah’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, also spoke against Buttars’ proposal, warning that it would violate the federal Equal Access Act.
The ACLU sued the Salt Lake City School Board on behalf of students in the late 1990s, after the board tried to ban gay clubs by allowing only curriculum-based clubs, Plane said. But federal law requires schools that accept federal money to give equal on-campus access to non-curricular organizations. The ALCU won the lawsuit.
Plane also said the definitions of human sexuality in SB97 would violate federal law.
“The federal courts have ruled that gay-straight alliances are not focused on sex,” Plane said. “They are focused on combating unfair treatment and prejudice.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 17, 2006.