Take the history of Campfield’s pet bill for the legislative session destined to end this weekend: SB 049, notorious throughout the Western world as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which would, in the language of itrs original caption, “prohibit…the teaching of or furnishing of materials on human sexuality other than heterosexuality in public schools grades K-8.”
For a legislator who, as a House member, offered such bills as one requiring the issuing of official death certificates in the case of abortions, “Don’t Say Gay” was arguably subdued. But the bill kicked up a storm of public outrage and garnered ridicule — for the state and the legislature — from the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and pundits galore.
Meanwhile, gay and lesbian organizations and mainstream civil liberties groups saw the bill as no laughing matter.
As the chronology of developments concerning SB049 on the General Assembly website makes clear, the bill pursued an erratic course through the 2011 session, continually being placed on hold, one way or another.
And it is evident from the linked video clips of formal discussion provided by the site that Campfield and his bill were a source of discomfort, even for the legislature’s new conservative leadership.
As the Senate kept kicking the can down the road, the House didn’t even bother doing that. Assigned to the House General Education subcommittee after its filing back in February, the House version never got off the shelf for any kind of discussion thereafter.
But finally on Friday, May 20, the last full day of actual legislating, SB 049 got its day in court after innumerable deferrals. It actually got voted on in the Senate and was passed, 19-11.
The end of Western Civilization as we have known it? Not really. The bill was significantly amended. No longer does it ban the mention of homosexuality per se. Now it merely restricts classroom instruction in grades K through 8 to “natural human reproduction science.”
Making the best of his situation, Campfield professed to be satisfied, saying the revised bill would achieve the same ends he had in mind. But others disagree. As the clear-minded iconoclast Jeff Woods noted in Nashville’s City Paper, “Democrats argued the amendment actually liberalizes state law, which now makes it a misdemeanor to teach any kind of sex education before the ninth grade.”
And Woods quoted state Senator Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga), one of the legislature’s foremost remaining liberal lights, to the end that “the bill would essentially overturn a 40-year-old state law that prohibits the teaching of sex education in the early grades.”
Said Berke: “We have been steadfast in our desire to say that we should not have age-inappropriate material in grades K-8, going so far as to make that a criminal misdemeanor if you violate that. What we’re doing here is passing something just to pass it, which will actually allow people to teach this.” [our italics.]
Asked by the Flyer what his own take was, Democratic Senate leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) concurred. “Andy’s right. He’s a knowledgeable lawyer, and I trust his judgment. For the first time ever, you now have a law that says you can teach sex education in kindergarten.”
So, can it really be that Stacey Campfield has got a modicum of movement, only to discover that his bill, should it ever pass the House in some future session (and that’s anything but a slam dunk), actually legitimizes the very kinds of things he set out to prohibit?