The Arizona House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to repeal the state’s “no promo homo” law, looking to head off a lawsuit challenging it as unconstitutional.
The House voted 55-5 to pass Senate Bill 1346, which it amended earlier in the day to repeal the 1991 law, which prohibits Arizona schools from presenting homosexuality in a positive light. Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said his amendment repealing the 1991 law would resolve the lawsuit and save taxpayer dollars that would otherwise go to lawyers.
SB1346 now goes to the Senate. Shope said he hasn’t spoken with Senate President Karen Fann, but hopes the Senate will move quickly to pass the bill and put an end to the lawsuit. Senate Republican spokesman Mike Philipsen said the bill is on the calendar for discussion in the chamber’s Democratic and Republican caucuses on Thursday, indicating that it is likely to receive a final vote in that chamber this week.
Earlier in the day, Gov. Doug Ducey declined to comment on the proposed repeal of the law, noting that he doesn’t generally comment on legislation before he acts on it.
The disputed law bars HIV-prevention instruction in Arizona public schools that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle,” “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle” or “suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” A recent lawsuit challenging the law was brought by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Arizona and an unnamed LBGTQ seventh-grader in Tucson.
Rep. Cesar Chavez, D-Phoenix, noted that he was four years old when the law was enacted, and fifteen when he told his Catholic parents he was gay. His parents embraced and accepted him, he said. But many others never had that same opportunity, he said, choosing instead to hide, and sometimes even to take their own lives.
“Today is historic, not only to the individuals who identify as LGBTQ, but to the state of Arizona. And just like that very moment I had the courage to tell my parents, I know that this will allow many other individuals to do so and to be who they are, as members of society and contributing individuals of this state, of this country,” Chavez said.
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said he was often labeled as “alternative” or “an other” during his years in school because he was gay.
“This is not a victory for one person or for one group. This is something that all of us share in because we were able to come together in a bipartisan way to ensure that Arizona students never have to feel like they are an other,” he said.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office informed House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann on Tuesday that it would not defend the law. Solicitor General Oramel Skinner gave no explanation in his letter to the legislative leaders, and a spokesman for the office declined to comment on the reason, but some opponents of the law interpreted it as an acknowledgement that the law will be struck down if the suit goes to trial.
Shope told the Mirror that he and Hernandez began working on the amendment on Tuesday, before learning of the attorney general’s letter, and had been discussing the possibility before then. Shope said after Wednesday’s vote that he views the law as archaic and that he believes the lawsuit against it will prevail if it goes to trial.
“I don’t think any of us really wanted to get into a drawn-out, protracted type of thing on what many of us viewed as an antiquated issue,” he said.
Only five lawmakers opposed the repeal: Republican Reps. John Fillmore, Mark Finchem, Anthony Kern, Warren Petersen and Bret Roberts.
Fillmore, an Apache Junction Republican, said he voted against the bill because he took issue with language in the statute permitting HIV education to students as young as kindergarteners. The language allowing age-appropriate instruction to kindergarteners is pre-existing and wasn’t affected by the repeal bill, though Fillmore said, “That doesn’t mean I have to be supportive of it in any way, shape or form.”
“Overall, it’s just a resistance in me taking away our – I guess the youth of our kids, the innocence of them. It doesn’t seem right,” Fillmore said.
Finchem, a Republican from Oro Valley, said his constituents have conveyed to him that they wanted him to vote against the bill.
“My phone’s been blowing up,” Finchem said as his cell phone rang.