The Slatest

Alabama Was About to End Its Horrible Sex-Ed Law, but Instead It Banned Abortion and Eliminated Marriage Licenses

Silhouette of the Alabama State Capitol dome
The U.S. and Alabama flags fly over the Alabama State Capitol on May 14. Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters

Alabama seemed to be on the verge of correcting its decades-old sex ed law that requires schools to emphasize “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.” A bill to remove the dated, homophobic language had already passed the state Senate, but the House apparently was more concerned with its abortion ban and a change to marriage licenses—and ran out of time to bring the bill to a vote.

Even though a Republican in the state Senate sponsored the measure and it passed 26–1, the state House never even took it up for a vote. House leadership said the death of the bill Friday, on the last day of this year’s session, wasn’t intentional and attributed it to the Senate’s early departure. But the House had nearly seven weeks to put the bill on the floor.

In the meantime, the Legislature battled over a near-total abortion ban that even the new law’s sponsors admit will not go into effect unless the Supreme Court overturns long-standing precedent. It also passed a bill that would do away with marriage licenses, ostensibly to give probate judges who refuse to perform same-sex marriages a legal shield. Lawmakers said they just wanted to get the state out of the marriage business, but nearly identical bills have been introduced in the Legislature since the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed that bill on Friday, making Alabama the first state to abolish marriage licenses. Other GOP-led states have considered similar laws.

“I was frustrated that the GOP in the House would spend that much time to deliberate on restricting abortion access, even in the case of rape or incest, and not give us the few more minutes necessary to deliberate on the importance of giving our young people medically-accurate information,” said state Rep. Neil Rafferty, Alabama’s only openly gay elected official.

If passed, the bill would have revised portions of law that refer to AIDS and STDs. The revision would have required education on HIV and sexually transmitted infections instead—two more all-encompassing terms. Rafferty also noted that the current law isn’t legally accurate, as sex between consenting same-sex partners hasn’t been criminalized since the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision that overturned state sodomy bans.

Research shows that LGBT students are more likely to feel safe and perform better academically in schools with LGBT-inclusive curricula and faculty. And teaching an LGBT-inclusive sex ed class in Alabama is still technically illegal. Even where schools do have sex education classes—it’s not required in Alabama—some teachers are forced to avoid the topic of sexuality altogether, which harms LGBT students, advocates say.

According to GLSEN, at least six states have “no promo homo” laws that harm or stigmatize LGBT students. These laws expressly forbid teachers from discussing LGBT issues—including HIV awareness—in a positive light, and some, like Alabama’s, require that teachers actively portray the issues in a negative or inaccurate way.