Sen. Chris Buttars' bill regulating student clubs, but intended to prevent gay-straight alliances, in Utah public high schools received preliminary Senate approval Wednesday despite an impassioned challenge by Utah's only openly gay senator.
SB97, sponsored by Buttars, R-West Jordan, includes some of the language in a similar House bill, HB393, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville. It also includes some changes Buttars said were suggested by the Utah Attorney General's Office. "So it's a blend."
"I'm tickled with the way it is now," Buttars said.
The bill, which was substituted with the changes before it passed, seeks to allow school boards to approve or deny clubs without fear of lawsuits, Buttars said.
It basically directs school boards to deny clubs that promote bigotry, involve human sexuality or those where the school determines it necessary to "protect the physical, emotional, psychological or moral well-being of students and faculty," "protect the rights of parent or guardians and students" and other provisions. School boards would decide which club applications meet those criteria.
The bill doesn't mention gay-straight alliances, noted Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. But Senate testimony, including Buttars', focused on those student clubs, which reportedly exist in 14 Utah public schools, and on homosexuality in general.
A man who testified before a House committee earlier this week told the Senate that his niece had been "recruited" and "indoctrinated" by an alliance to speak in defense of homosexuals to her parents' dismay.
"We allow the homosexual community to frame the argument . . . that these are nice friendly support groups. This is not true. You just heard that," Buttars said. "To get the homosexual community's agenda to pass, they have to get us to redefine our traditional morality completely. If you're going to say homosexual behavior is OK, you've declared there is no morality."
The statements offended Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City.
"I have never recruited a single person into the homosexual lifestyle because it's not a chosen lifestyle. I didn't wake up one day and choose to be gay, and I don't believe . . . any of you woke up one day and chose to be heterosexual. It's what you are," McCoy said.
"It isn't recruiting to say we recognize there are different kinds of people in the world and there are different ideas in the world and we should give respect and dignity to those people even though they're different from us . . . and I take exception to the notion that being gay or lesbian is the antithesis of being moral. We are absolutely moral people," McCoy said.
He added that the real moral issue of the session is to fund services for the poor, people with disabilities and education.
The Senate voted 18-11 to hear the bill one last time a vote that typically ends up solidifying positions taken.
Meanwhile, Tilton's bill awaits action by the House Rules Committee, which will decide whether to bring it out for House debate. If not, Buttars believes his bill is in position to move forward in the House, which will discuss Senate bills next week."Mine will probably be the one we carry," he said.