The state Senate adopted the controversial “don’t say gay” bill Friday but amended it first to allow only the teaching of “natural human reproduction science” in public schools.
Democrats argued the amendment actually liberalizes state law, which now makes it a misdemeanor to teach any kind of sex education before the ninth grade.
The Senate voted 19-11 for the bill with Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, joining Republicans in support. The companion bill in the House is dead for this session, but it could be revived next year.
The “don’t say gay” bill by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, has drawn national criticism this session. Nashville high school students have made regular trips to the Capitol to demonstrate against it, chanting “It’s OK to say gay!”
In its original form, it would have made it illegal for teachers to discuss homosexuality in the classroom before the ninth grade. Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, proposed the amendment, which decrees that instruction “shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science.” Campfield supported that.
Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, asked, “Why is the word ‘natural’ in there? I’m unaware of any unnatural human reproduction and it seems to me that word is superfluous.”
Roberts replied that he wanted to forbid any teaching of artificial insemination.
“We wanted to keep it as basic and fundamental as possible,” he said. “Instruction like this should really be at home by the parents. That’s really our intent here.”
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said the bill would essentially overturn a 40-year-old state law that prohibits the teaching of sex education in the early grades.
“We have been steadfast in our desire to say that we should not have age-inappropriate material in grades K-8, going so far as to make that a criminal misdemeanor if you violate that. What we’re doing here is passing something just to pass it, which will actually allow people to teach this.”