DENVER — Schools that offer sex education classes would have to teach a comprehensive curriculum that includes gay and lesbian issues and not focus on abstinence-only programs under a bill the Colorado House approved Tuesday.
Though the controversial bill allows parents to opt-out their children from such courses, it has attracted widespread criticism from across the state, with some opponents saying it would teach deviant behavior to students while others maintain that it should be up to local school districts to dictate what courses they offer.
The measure, HB1032, doesn't require schools to offer courses in human sexuality, but those that do must include such things as all methods for preventing a pregnancy, teach consent before having sexual relations and instruct on all ways for dealing with a pregnancy, such as adoption and abortion.
The courses cannot endorse religious ideology or sectarian tenets, nor can they exclude the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transexual people.
"The spirit of 1032 is not lost on I don't think anyone, which is the desire to institute in our communities the acceptance of those who struggle with acceptance," said Rep. Mark Baisley, R-Roxborough Park. "The objections that conservatives have had, that I have had, is primarily that the acceptance is a forced acceptance. Government is force, and so to have a forced acceptance is not a genuine acceptance."
State law already calls on school districts to offer comprehensive sex education programs, but not all schools have complied, particularly charter schools and school districts in rural parts of the state, proponents said.
As a result, Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, introduced this year's measure to ensure that all schools that offer sex education courses are following the same rules.
"When I began to work on this bill over two years ago, my goal was to make sure that what was happening in our schools was what the intent of the 2013 bill expressed," Lontine said. "That clearly is not happening right now. The 2013 bill was very clear that if you taught sex ed it should be comprehensive, and it should also be LGTB inclusive. That is not the education that our children are getting."
Reps. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, and Lori Saine, R-Dacono, called on opponents of the measure not to give up, saying they were "sending out an SOS" to the people of Colorado to come to the state Capitol when the bill is debated in the Senate.
"Part of the issue we've heard from our constituents is this bill explicitly contains abortion, which is a euphemism for murdering children," Saine said. "And we're teaching our children this. I'm sending out that SOS again. There's still time, Colorado. This may pass the House today, but it's going to the Senate, and we look forward to hearing your voices again."
Republican lawmakers said they heard from many people that their voices were not heard on the issue when it was debated in the House Education Committee late last month.
That hearing, however, lasted for nearly 10 hours, and heard many who thought the bill intended to teach juveniles how to have sex, or that it violated their religious beliefs.
"This bill is not about religion, it's not about putting Christians against the LGBT community," said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. "As a black lesbian Christian, we should be able to go to school and be taught ... sex ed in a comprehensive way. We cannot ostracize people for their religious beliefs, nor should we for their sexual orientation or gender expression. By putting religion against the LGTB community, we are misinterpreting the word. This is not OK."
The bill cleared the House on a near party-line vote. Only Rep. Don Valdez, D-La Jara, voted with Republicans against it. The measure now heads to the Senate, where it has bipartisan support. Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is shepherding the bill through that chamber with Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Denver.