Education board nixes requirement to promote opposite sex marriages

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman consults with Luke Narducci, president of the state Board of Education, last month ahead of a decision by the panel to repeal a rule governing how sex ed courses can be taught in Arizona schools. [Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services]

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX — Over the objections of one member, the state Board of Education voted Monday to scrap a rule that requires sex education classes in Arizona to “promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.”

Armando Ruiz said he understands the aim is to prevent discrimination against those who are different. He told colleagues of his experience of being called a “wetback” and being one of just seven children of color at Brophy Preparatory Academy.

There’s also the fact that repeal of the section is necessary to end a lawsuit against the state by gay rights advocates.

But Mr. Ruiz, a former Democrat state lawmaker, told colleagues he fears that the repeal will result in a new form of discrimination, this time against members of the faith community who do believe in what the that language has, until now, promoted.

“Once we take that off the table, we brand that as inferior,” he said of the idea of monogamous heterosexual marriage. “Like it or not, the message that we send is that world view is inferior, it’s denigrating, there’s something wrong with it.”

And Mr. Ruiz said that’s not acceptable to the Mexican community, which he said has a large number of people of faith.

“We see it as an attack on what we believe,” he said.

“I know that’s not the intent here,” Mr. Ruiz continued. “But that’s the message that will go out.”

And he said the change will result in a new form of discrimination, this time against members of the faith community who do believe in what the rule promotes.

“What I do know is that you cannot cure discrimination by discriminating against another group,” he said.

Mr. Ruiz was outvoted, though, as the other board members instead agreed to close the rule-making docket, essentially a procedural step before a formal board vote to repeal the language.

Kathy Hoffman

State schools chief Kathy Hoffman, who sits on the board, also supported the repeal.

She pointed out that the action will end a lawsuit filed in March against the state in federal court by two gay rights organizations and a gay Tucson student who challenged not just the rule but also a state law that prohibits instruction that “promotes a homosexual lifestyle” or “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style” when teaching about AIDS and HIV.

The Legislature repealed the statute last month; Monday’s board vote to eliminate the rule should result in dismissal of the case.

But Ms. Hoffman said Monday’s vote is not the end of the matter.

She proposed that the board take a harder look at all of its rules on sex education, something Ms. Hoffman said will create an opportunity to address the concerns raised by Mr. Ruiz.

Others also want change.

Martin Quezada

In a letter to the board, Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, pointed out there is other language that could be considered discriminatory against gays.

For example, it spells out that sex education materials “shall not include the teaching of abnormal, deviate, or unusual sexual acts and practices.” Mr. Quezada wants that replaced with a requirement that course be “medically and scientifically accurate.”

The board agreed to have that discussion next month.

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