Hundreds fill Capitol Rotunda to urge sex ed bill veto

Published: Wednesday, March 14 2012 9:47 p.m. MDT

Citizens rally in the rotunda of the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City to ask Governor Herbert to veto HB363, Wednesday, March 14, 2012. At front center is Cassie Craig.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Michelle Wilde toted her nearly 2-year-old son in a stroller to the Capitol Rotunda Wednesday afternoon for a rally against HB363, the Utah abstinence-only sex education bill.

She was joined by several hundred others packed into the rotunda, urging Gov. Gary Herbert to veto what has become the recent legislative session's most controversial bill.

"If it weren't for proper sex education in my life, my son would be six and not two," Wilde said.

Her parents taught her what she needed to know about sex, Wilde said, but many of her friends and other people she knows were not so lucky, ending up pregnant or getting sexually transmitted diseases. From her experience, sex education in her Salt Lake area high school was practically non-existent.

Teachers "weren't even allowed to say the word 'condom,'" she said. "I'm not going to pretend that teenagers having sex doesn't happen if you don't talk about it."

Herbert is expected to decide next week if he will sign or veto HB363, and groups that oppose and others who support the measure are working to influence his decision. Herbert has until March 28 to decide.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, emphasizes that sex education should primarily take place in the home. If signed into law, schools would be banned from teaching about contraceptives, sexual activity outside of marriage and homosexuality.

Herbert has said that he will not be swayed by mass email campaigns and would make a decision based on what is the best policy for the state of Utah.

Mary Kay Lehto, a social worker from Holladay came to the rally with her husband, Barry Lehto, a retired high school teacher. 

"I believe in sex ed. I would love parents to do it, but I would also love schools to do it," she said. "If you work with adolescents, you know they're having sex and you know they're doing dumb things."

Barbara Munoz, a children's health policy advocate who lives in Taylorsville, said she is a Lutheran. "I'm Christian. I'm very pro-life, but I'm also very pro sex ed," Munoz said. "I think it's very strange when people are pro-life, but against giving teens information about sex. They should go hand in hand."

Since the Legislature adjourned March 8, thousands of phone calls, emails and letters from citizens have poured into the governor's office, mostly in opposition to the bill, Herbert's spokeswoman Ally Isom has said. Rally organizers Wednesday handed out cards that listed the governor's phone number and encouraged them to keep the pressure on.

An online petition asking Herbert to veto the bill has collected thousands of signatures, and a recent Brigham Young University poll found more than 58 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that contraceptive use should be taught in public schools.

Wright, the bill's sponsor, seemed unfazed by the poll results, saying the Founding Fathers created a government that was not a pure democracy.

"Thank goodness we have a representative form of government and not a populist form of government," he said.

Wright sponsored the bill because he disagreed with what he viewed as inappropriate material presented in classrooms.

Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, who supports the bill, said that he's mostly received feedback in opposition to the bill since its passage, but he maintains that HB363 is good policy.

The bill still allows for instruction on physiology and anatomy but prevents more graphic information from entering the curriculum, such as various forms of contraceptives or the intricacies of sexual intercourse, Barlow said.

"With all legislation you look at the pros and cons."

E-mail: lbrubaker@desnews.com

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