Tenn. Gov. Haslam Signs 'Gateway Sexual Activity' Bill

May 14, 2012 — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has signed a bill (HB 3621) that requires an abstinence-centered approach to sex education in public school and bans instructors from discussing "gateway sexual activity," the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Critics said the provision on gateway sexual activity -- which has prompted controversy and been lampooned on television comedy shows -- is too vague (Sher, Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/11). Jerry Winters of the Tennessee Education Association said, "The very ambiguous language in this bill certainly puts teachers in a very difficult situation" in terms of knowing what to teach. The measure imposes fines of up to $500 for public school teachers or guest speakers if they promote or condone "gateway sexual activity," according to the Reuters/Chicago Tribune.

David Fowler -- president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, which supported the legislation -- said the provision applies to the touching of certain "gateway body parts," such as the buttocks, breasts, inner thigh and genitals, but it does not ban discussions on kissing or hand-holding (Ghianni, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 5/11).