A bill that would ban teaching Tennessee kids about homosexuality before they reach the ninth grade was approved by a state House subcommittee Wednesday, reigniting an emotional debate in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
The bill, which would limit class discussions to "natural human reproduction science" in public schools, passed the House education subcommittee, which keeps it on track for consideration by the full House, according to reports in the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville Scene.
To supporters, the bill gives parents control over how and when to educate their children about what is still, to some, a sensitive topic.
"The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness," Democratic state Rep. John DeBerry said, according to the Tennessean. "Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and indoctrinate them as I see fit."
Wednesday's hearing attracted a large crowd, including many high school students involved in gay-straight alliance groups at Nashville high schools. Some students stood on a busy street with their mouths covered in purple tape.
Only one subcommittee member opposed the measure. "It looks to me like a solution looking for a problem," Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat, told the Tennessean.
The bill, authored by Republican lawmaker Stacey Campfield, passed the state Senate last year. Campfield prefers to call it a "Don't Teach Gay" bill, and has said it is necessary because homosexuality is more dangerous than heterosexuality.
Campfield recently incorrectly asserted on a a satellite radio talk show that the HIV epidemic began when a gay airline employee had sex with a monkey. His statements have earned him national attention and the ire of gay rights supporters both nationally and locally: A restaurant in his hometown of Knoxville recently refused to serve him.
Jeff Woods, a reporter at the Nashville Scene, noted that Wednesday's debate over the bill took a detour into the merits of the popular TV sitcom "Modern Family," which prominently features a gay couple.
A preacher told the committee that if the bill became law, kids might find out about gay people anyway if they tuned in to the show.
The subcommittee chair, Rep. Joey Hensley, said that he didn't think that "Modern Family" was an "appropriate" show for children.
-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta
Photo: Opponents of a bill seeking to prohibit the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students wear purple to a meeting of the House Education Subcommittee in Nashville on Wednesday. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald advanced on a voice vote. Credit: Erik Schelzig/Associated Press