SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave final passage Wednesday to a bill that removes the homosexuality reference from prohibited topics in sex education instruction in public schools.
Professor Cliff Rosky, a member of Equality Utah’s Advisory Council, said passage of SB196 on a 27-1 vote affirms that "all students are equal." The bill previously passed the House with a 68-1 vote.
“We are confident that in the coming weeks we can work with the attorney general's office, the Utah State Board of Education and local school districts to bring an end to our lawsuit by ensuring that the intent of SB196 is carried out in all of our state's public schools and charter schools,” Rosky said.
In committee debate earlier in the legislative session, the bill's sponsor, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the legislation is intended to treat all students equally with respect to sex education instruction in Utah public schools.
The amended legislation emphasizes instruction that encourages fidelity in marriage and eliminates a specific prohibition against "advocacy of homosexuality" from Utah's statute on health education.
"We're focusing on making sure we’re treating all kids equally. What this bill does is it allows us to focus on just that — making sure we treat everyone equally, whether it's homosexuality and heterosexuality. The state has a compelling interest to teach all children," Adams said.
The bill "sustains and verifies the fact our statute focuses on fidelity and abstinence before marriage," he added.
Equality Utah filed a lawsuit against the State School Board in October, citing the experiences of three unnamed students in elementary, middle and high schools as examples of other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths' experiences in Utah public schools, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit claims Utah school policies violate constitutional rights of free speech and equal protection, as well as Title IX protections.
The lawsuit is on hold in federal court after U.S. District Judge Dee Benson granted a joint motion for a stay of proceedings earlier in the legislative session.
Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams said passage of SB196 marked "a historic day for LGBTQ students in Utah."
"We commend Sen. Adams and the Utah Legislature for recognizing that LGBTQ students should be treated with the same respect and dignity as straight students. The removal of discriminatory language from school curriculum will send a positive message that all students are valued in Utah,” he said.
There was no debate in the Senate on final passage of the bill, as the vote was largely procedural to approve a technical amendment to legislation that had been previously approved by the Senate.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, cast the lone dissenting vote.