It should be up to parents and local school boards to decide whether gay-straight alliances are allowed in public high schools — not the state, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday.

The governor's comments came the day after Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said he intends to run a bill in the 2006 Legislature that would ban such clubs from public schools throughout Utah.

Huntsman, also a Republican, said during the taping of his monthly press conference televised on KUED Channel 7 that the question of whether the state needs to step in and take the clubs out of public schools has already been answered by the courts.

"It was deliberated and finalized," the governor said of the legal wrangling over the first attempt at forming a gay-straight alliance in Utah at East High in 1995. The legal battle ended when the Salt Lake City Board of Education decided to allow all types of clubs to meet.

"I do believe that these are issues that should be taken care of at the localest of levels — parents dealing with kids, and parents dealing with school boards, if they have a concern," Huntsman said. "I am not sure whether this necessarily should be handled at the state level."

After the taping, the governor told reporters he preferred to talk with his own children about gay-related issues. But Huntsman, who has two children attending East High, said he had no problem with the school's having a gay-straight alliance.

"This is something I would discuss with my kids individually, within our home. That would be my preference. But other parents might be different," he said. Some might feel their children need such a club, the governor said.

"Maybe some people do. I can't speak for all kids. I wouldn't want to dictate an outcome to all parents. I think it's a sensitive enough issue for parents to try to deal with in ways they are most comfortable with," he said.

Martin Bates, assistant to the superintendent on legal issues and policy in Granite School District, agrees the issue remains in the hands of school districts.

"I think it's really powerful when local board members make a decision and go home at the end of the board meeting and answer to their neighbors about it," Bates said.

Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka is working with Buttars on the bill, which she says picked up steam after a gay-straight alliance set up shop at Provo High School.

Ruzicka says local boards are too afraid of lawsuits to not allow gay-straight clubs. She notes parents were furious at the idea of a gay-straight alliance at Provo High this past fall, yet the Provo Board of Education allowed it.

Ruzicka believes tight state controls on human sexuality instruction let school boards say no to gay-straight alliances, which she says by their very nature connote sexuality. Buttars' bill, she says, would tweak existing state law to make that clear.

Bates believes Ruzicka's point will receive hearty debate.

But, he adds, if a gay-straight alliance or similarly chartered club by another name isn't talking about sexuality, but conducting service projects, as several principals have told the Deseret Morning News, it must be allowed if other extracurricular clubs are.

Banning them would conflict with the federal Equal Access Act — strongly backed by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch at its 1984 creation in attempts to halt discrimination against religious clubs.

"The Equal Access Act makes pretty clear, curriculum clubs are run by the school. But if kids want to get together and meet on other topics, if you open your door to any of those clubs, you open your door to all clubs," Bates said. "The state (already) has stepped in. And frankly, federal government has stepped in. . . . The U.S. Constitution has a supremacy clause, which means federal law will always trump state law."

Also during Thursday's taping, the governor:

Said his $9.6 billion budget "very prudently" takes care of the state's needs, including bolstering some areas like education and salaries for public employees that have sometimes been underfunded.

He said his proposed budget — which includes $60 million in tax cuts compared to the $230 million that House Republicans have said they want — takes "advantage of the economic circumstances" of the state that have resulted in hefty surpluses.

"We can afford to do it," he said of the additional money he's recommending for schools and other programs. "We're not always so blessed."

Proclaimed he's "never been more encouraged" in his fight to stop a plan to put high-level nuclear waste on land owned by the Goshute Indian tribe in Tooele County's Skull Valley, because some the proposed facility's backers are rethinking their funding.

Those backers, known as Private Fuel Storage, are dealing with "a state that essentially is a united front against them, and I think they're probably discovering pretty quickly that they found themselves in a relatively hostile environment here in Utah. . . .I believe that eventually, that will cause (their plans) to die of their own weight."


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