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Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

The legislation would have made the state's sex ed laws some of the strictest in the nation when it comes to teaching about LGBTQ issues.
Image: Doug Ducey, Cara Christ
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey on Dec. 2, 2020, in Phoenix.Ross D. Franklin / Pool via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have made the state's sex education laws some of the strictest in the nation when it comes to teaching about LGBTQ issues.

The governor called the legislation overly broad and vague and said it would lead to unintended consequences. He also said he was concerned a ban on sex education before 5th grade could put vulnerable children at risk by limiting sexual abuse prevention education.

At the same time, the Republican issued an executive order adopting some of the transparency portions of the measure.

The proposed law would have barred all discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS in sex education classes unless parents are notified in advance and specifically opt in for the instruction.

The proposal applies outside of sex ed classes as well, requiring parents to agree to have their children learn about historical events such as a discussion of the modern gay rights movement that sprang from the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York.

It also banned any sex ed classes before 5th grade, which opponents have said will put young students who now learn about “good touch-bad touch” to avoid molestation at greater risk.

Social conservative groups that backed the measure called it a needed parental rights issue, arguing that parents deserve to know and approve of what their children are taught in school. Arizona currently allows parents to review all learning material and already requires an opt-in for sex ed classes.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Legislation over unified opposition from Democrats, who called it an attack on LGBTQ students who are already marginalized and dangerous to young students.

The legislation comes two years after the Republican governor signed a repeal of a 1991 law banning HIV/AIDS instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle." That bill emerged as the state faced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law that the Republican attorney general and Democratic schools chief refused to fight.

Arizona is among several Republican-led states where lawmakers considered similar changes to sex education this year.

Moving to give parents more control over what their children may be taught about LGBTQ issues is new. It comes amid other efforts pushing back on social changes, including legislation in some states to ban transgender athletes from competing on school teams of their identified sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group that tracks such legislation.

Arizona is one of five states that already require parents' permission before children can attend sex education classes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The proposal vetoed by Ducey on Tuesday would have essentially require a double opt-in for HIV/AIDS instruction that addresses sexual orientation or gender identity. Additional permission would have been needed for LGBTQ discussions in any other class.

Legislation being considered in Idaho would require notifications and opt-ins, including for discussion of sexual orientation outside of sex education classes. It has passed the House and awaits Senate action.

Lawmakers in Tennessee enacted a measure the governor pledged to sign and the Missouri Legislature is considering one that would require parents to be notified before instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity but would exclude historical references.

In Montana, the Legislature passed a bill earlier this month initially aimed at requiring parents to opt in to sex education. But the legislation was changed after criticism from education groups. It now allows parents to opt their children out of sex ed and awaits action by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Advocates for comprehensive sex education say such legislation can have far-reaching negative effects under the guise of parental rights by limiting fact-based education that young people need to stay safe.

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