Republican Governor Gary Herbert vetoed a bill that would have reduced sexuality education in Utah public schools to abstinence-only-until-marriage. The restrictive legislation had cleared the state house and senate, and the governor’s veto was unexpected.
Utah state Republican representative Bill Wright had led an assault on public schools’ ability to address the topic of contraception as part of sexuality education. Current law had permitted schools to cover the topic while stipulating that teachers could not advocate the use of contraception. Wright made it a crusade to remove the topic from the curriculum altogether. “When we promote promiscuous behavior it’s the same thing as promoting alcohol or drugs,” he argued.1
The Utah PTA, Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah both joined the battle to preserve parental choice and academic freedom, insisting that Wright’s measure would impose upon all schools a one-size-fits-all curriculum that permits discussion only about abstinence until marriage. Supporters of Wright’s measure included the conservative Utah Eagle Forum and the Sutherland Institute.
The Utah House passed the measure, HB363, in late February by a majority of 45-28. The bill would not only require abstinence-only education in public schools, it would also have given schools the option to forego teaching anything about sexuality altogether.
During the House debate, opponents of Wright’s reactionary bill made the case for more comprehensive approaches to sexuality education in public schools. Democratic state representative Brian King of Salt Lake City argued that Utah citizens held diverse viewpoints about premarital sex, and that Wright’s bill would “force our beliefs down the throats” of those who do not see premarital sex as harmful.3
In issuing his veto, Governor Herbert stated, "Existing law respects the ability of Utah parents to choose if and how their student will receive classroom instruction on these topics. Under current law, a parent must opt in, in writing, before their student can attend all or any portions of any class discussing human sexuality. If HB 363 were to become law, parents would no longer have the option the overwhelming majority is currently choosing for their children. I am unwilling to conclude that the State knows better than Utah's parents as to what is best for their children.”4
1 Lisa Schencker, “Utah Lawmaker Wants to Ban Talk of Contraception in Schools,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 February 2012, accessed 1 March 2012, <http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/faith/53475504-90/bill-contraception-districts-education.html.csp>.
2 Lisa Schencker, “Utah House Passes Bill to Allow Schools to Skip Sex Ed,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 February 2012, accessed 1 March 2012,<http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/utes/53570545-90/abstinence-allow-bill-education.html.csp?page=1>.
4 Press Release, “Governor Vetoes Health Education Bill, HB 363,” 16 March 2012, accessed 2 April 2012, <http://www.utah.gov/governor/news_media/article.html?article=6797>.