An interesting thing happened in Utah over the last few weeks. The general populace overcame their religious stranglehold, engaged in productive political activism and forced a rational and logical outcome. It was truly a sight to behold.
80% of the Utah’s state legislators are Mormon, and as a result wear the self-appointed titles of “Purveyors of All Things Moral.” They mostly run uncontested in their districts (meaning they don’t often have to fight off challengers in their own party; running as a Republican in Utah against a Democrat basically means “uncontested”). They often ignore feedback from their constituents and opinion polls since they know the “R” after their names on the ballot virtually guarantees a win in most areas of the state. For instance, two independent polls show more than 80% of Utah residents support state-wide protection for gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals from employment and housing discrimination. Yet, efforts to pass such legislation in Utah have failed to even make it out of committee hearings in the last three sessions. The clowns on the hill even threatened to take it a step further this session and proposed a state-wide ban on any local ordinances offering these protections (more than a dozen cities and counties in Utah have passed anti-discrimination ordinances). Fortunately, the efforts of Equality Utah put the kabosh on that effort…for now.
So, it was all rather surprising last week when the voices of the people actually had an effect on a particularly contentious issue: sex education in public schools. For several years, Utah public schools have been restricted to delivering abstinence-only sex education courses. Teachers delivering the courses usually don’t even mention birth control out of fear of being accused of “advocating” its use, which is contrary to state law. Given the program is abstinence only, it’s no wonder a recent study showed a large number of Utah teenage girls who became pregnant said they thought they couldn’t get pregnant (even without birth control) or that their partners were sterile. National statistics continue to show abstinence only education is not as effective as comprehensive sex education programs in combatting teen pregnancy and STDs. That being said, at least Utah schools were required to offer some form of sex education. Enter the Utah legislature.
HB363 changed state law to allow school districts to opt out of all sex education, meaning even the abstinence only education could be dropped. Never mind that parents already have the option of opting their teens out of the abstinence only program. And, never mind that less than 10% of parents choose to do so. HB363 passed even with a rising chorus of parent and educator voices expressing concerns. And that’s when the shit hit the fan. Actually, it hit the Utah legislature. Within hours of HB363 passing, petitions popped up on facebook and other sites. E-mail messages flooded legislators’ and the governor’s inboxes. Phones rang off the hook with calls from parents and teens. All objecting to what most perceived as legislators’ disregard for their constituents’ opinions and the health and welfare of the state’s teens.
And to the shock and amazement of nearly everyone in the state, Governor Gary Herbert vetoed HB363, saying it took control away from parents, which is where this decision should rest. Bravo to Governor Herbert and bravo to all the parents, educators and teens who spoke up. It may be only a small victory, but it does offer a glimmer of hope that the very strong border between R and D in this state can be overcome when it’s truly important. That there is at least some recognition that the health and welfare of our teens is important enough to take action.
Of course, it would mean a lot more if those voices were clamoring for actual sex education for our teens. But, that’s a battle for another day.
Photo by HunnerWoof
Editor’s Note: “FTW” = For the Win or “F*ck the World”…you decide.