What happens when the law a state uses to justify requiring anti-gay sex education curriculum is struck down in court? Alabama is about to find out.
In some states, including Alabama, state sex education policies require educators to teach exclusively about heterosexual sex or to advise against even consensual gay sex. While groups like the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States criticize the state policies as harmful and discriminatory toward LGBT students, the conservative states defend their policies, often citing bans on oral and anal sex in their state laws.
Among other things, Alabama’s sex education law requires that “any program or curriculum in the public schools in Alabama that includes sex education or the human reproductive process” shall include “an emphasis, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”
But the “homosexual conduct” the sex ed policy seems to refer to is no longer a criminal offense in the state after an appeals court ruled in June that Alabama’s law banning consensual anal and oral sex is unconstitutional, the Montgomery Press-Register reported. That decision is causing state officials to re-examine Alabama’s sex education policy, the Press-Register reported. The paper surveyed several school districts and found that they either didn’t teach sex education courses, didn’t address homosexuality at all, or fully stressed abstinence from all forms of sex.
Could this be a problem in other states? Signs point to yes.
In its 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Lonestar State’s anti-sodomy law and invalidated similar laws in 13 other states. But those laws remain on the books in many states, as The Week wrote about when Virginia’s law was struck down last year:
But in 13 states (not including Virginia), the laws didn't actually disappear: Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas still have laws specifically outlawing sex between gay Americans, and 9 other states outlaw anal or oral sex for everyone. Mother Jones' Tim Murphy notes that 'conservatives in those states know they can't enforce the laws, but by keeping them in the code, they can send a message that homosexuality is officially condemned by the government.'"
As Alabama illustrates, those invalidated laws may also affect other statutes, such as those that dictate sex education standards. That’s also the case with Mississippi’s state sex education law, which, like many other states, also prohibits teaching about abortion and contraceptives.
And some states prohibit teaching about gay sex or require teachers to emphasize heterosexuality. Because comprehensive sex education and LGBT student advocacy groups use different metrics to evaluate state laws (including sometimes lumping sex ed policies with anti-bullying policies), they give varying figures for how many states require teaching sex ed with a heterosexual focus or prohibit discussing forms of gay sex. Here are differing lists from SIECUS and GLSEN, for example. But it’s clear that those policies exist in many states. Here are a few examples:
- In South Carolina, sex ed classes “may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases.”
- In Arizona, classes may not promote “a homosexual life-style,” portray “homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style,” or suggest “that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.”
- In Utah, where sex outside of marriage is illegal and an anti-anal sex law remains on the books, the law outlining curriculum requirements for sex education say that “at no time may instruction be provided, including responses to spontaneous questions raised by students, regarding any means or methods that facilitate or encourage the violation of any state or federal criminal law by a minor or an adult.”
The laws persist despite a push for national standards in teacher preparation and sex education course content that would emphasize comprehensive sex education at earlier ages and a teacher’s awareness of the biases about sex that he or she brings to the classroom.
If you live in a state with such a sex education policy, how does that play out in your school? Wanna see your state’s sex education law? Here they are in one place.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.