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Utah Lawmakers Pass Anti-Gay Club Bill

April 19, 1996

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Utah lawmakers approved a measure that bans gay student clubs in high schools and aims to curb what a backer argued was homosexual ``recruiting″ for a deadly lifestyle.

Despite the promise of a legal challenge, Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt has said he would sign the bill into law.

``In our society, sometimes you just have to go to a court to resolve the finer points,″ Leavitt said Thursday. ``Many people in the state, and I’m among them, wish that this did not have to play out in our schools. This is obviously a much larger national debate.

``I wish it were finished. I don’t suppose it is,″ Leavitt said.

Under the bill, which cleared the Senate 21-7 and the House 47-21, schools must deny access to clubs encouraging criminal or delinquent conduct, promoting bigotry or involving human sexuality.

It is the only measure of its kind in the nation to win passage, said Jensie Anderson of the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

``Not only does it violate the rights of lesbian, gay and straight students, but everyone associated with a Utah high school, including teachers, administrators and volunteers,″ said Carol Gnade, executive director of the ACLU in Utah.

State and school officials have been looking for a way to ban gay clubs since late last year when students at East High School in Salt Lake City said they were forming a Gay-Straight Alliance.

The Salt Lake School Board reacted by banning all nonacademic extracurricular organizations, such as the chess and Latin clubs, believing that under the 1984 federal Equal Access Law that was the only way it could prevent the gay students from meeting.

Supporters of the new bill believe it skirts those prohibitions.

Democratic Sen. George Mantes, an opponent, denounced it as ``another moral witch-hunt in our state.″

During the debate, Republican Rep. David Bresnahan, said his brother, who died of AIDS, had been misled into believing he was born a homosexual.

``Statements were made that (youngsters) aren’t recruited, and they sure are,″ he said, his voice breaking with emotion. ``Free speech does not include recruiting them into a homosexual lifestyle that can kill them.″

But some opponents said measure would do little but open the state to expensive litigation.

Republicans control both houses of the Legislature. Nearly 90 percent of the lawmakers are members of the Mormon Church, which considers homosexual acts grounds for excommunication.

Earlier this year, a similar measure that would have barred teachers from espousing or supporting illegal activities on or off campus was vetoed by the governor over concerns it infringed on teachers’ freedom of speech.

But Leavitt _ who agreed with the bill’s intent _ placed the matter on the agenda for a special session that began Wednesday.

Leavitt had wanted to give schools the option to ban the clubs, but the Legislature enacted a bill with a statewide ban on the clubs.

Utah is about 76 percent Mormon, by calculation of the church, which considers homosexual acts ground for excommunication.

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