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State attorneys say Utah school districts facing a federal legal challenge over laws that bar any positive discussion of homosexuality in school classrooms can't be sued because governmental immunity laws protect them.
And nothing in state curriculum law or the Utah State Board of Education's administrative rules specifically "contain the phrase anti-gay laws," according to court papers filed Tuesday in Salt Lake City's U.S. District Court.
The 27-page filing is the state's response to the October lawsuit filed by Equality Utah and three families of gay or transgender children that asks a federal judge to declare the state statutes unconstitutional.
No hearings have been set in the case.
The lawsuit says Utah's curriculum laws serve no legitimate state interest and violate First Amendment rights to free speech, 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and laws that prohibit sex discrimination and equal access.
"The anti-gay school laws were enacted in order to express moral disapproval of 'homosexuality' and of LGBT persons," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in any state and could set a precedent for similar laws around the country if it strikes down Utah's, according to attorneys for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), which filed the suit on Equality Utah's behalf.
At least seven other states have similar regulations, which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates sometimes call "no promo homo" or "don't say gay" laws.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Utah Board of Education; state Superintendent Sydnee Dickson; and the Cache County, Jordan and Weber school districts, where the children either are or were enrolled in school.
The Utah attorney general's office is defending the districts and the state board, all of which "have certain responsibilities defined by statute, administrative rules, constitutional provisions and common law," the Tuesday filing says.
The laws and administrative rules enacted "speak for themselves," state attorneys wrote.
State attorneys deny most of the allegations in the Equality Utah suit, saying they lack "sufficient knowledge or information" to respond to the lawsuit's assertions. They also say the minor plaintiffs have not been sufficiently identified.
A federal judge has ruled that the minors' identities can be protected and need only be identified by pseudonyms, including John, James and Jane Doe.
According to the lawsuit, the youths include a 7-year-old Weber County boy who is gender nonconforming; a gay, male high school student from Cache County barred from talking about his uncle's same-sex marriage at school; and a lesbian enrolled in a Salt Lake County high school, who has been discouraged from asking questions about homosexuality in health class.
Attorneys for Equality Utah say Utah's laws include multiple provisions targeting LGBT persons for discrimination, including prohibiting educational materials that include any "advocacy of homosexuality" and that promote abstinence before marriage.
The laws also reference Utah's one-man-one-woman marriage statutes, which were deemed unconstitutional in 2013, ban the formation of school clubs that propose to include as "part of their conduct or means of expression" discussions of human sexuality and require clubs to follow laws prohibiting advocacy of homosexuality.
According to the lawsuit, no similar bans apply to clubs about heterosexuality, heterosexual persons or heterosexual issues.