Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill repealing Arizona’s “no promo homo law” shortly after a Senate vote in favor of the measure Thursday morning.
The governor’s signature ensures that the state will avoid a potentially costly legal battle defending the controversial law that specifically prohibits the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle and safe homosexual sex while educating students on AIDS and HIV.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Equality Arizona and two unnamed Arizona students, argued that the law “facially discriminates against non-heterosexual students on the basis of sexual orientation and places them in an expressly disfavored class.”
Ducey tweeted that the repeal is a “common sense solution” and praised lawmakers for its passage in a “bipartisan manner.”
Lawmakers moved swiftly to repeal the law after news of the lawsuit spread, and after Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and Attorney General Mark Brnovich signaled their lack of interest in defending the law. Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, offered an amendment to attach the repeal to an unrelated education bill, SB1394, on Wednesday afternoon.
By Thursday, the Senate agreed to the change and sent the bill to Ducey, who swiftly signed it into law.
That the Legislature moved so fast in response to the lawsuit was not lost on Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, who’s spent year after year at the Capitol sponsoring bills to undo the nearly three decade old law.
Those bills have never before been heard by a Republican-controlled Legislature.
“We would not be here today if it were not a forced issue,” said Quezada, who credited the lawsuit and Brnovich’s decision not to intervene and defend the statute as impetus for the Legislature to finally act.
“All that we were asking for in this bill was that these kids be respected,” he added.
Sen. Tony Navarette, one of several gay lawmakers at the Capitol, said it was “almost unreal” that the Senate was finally taking a vote to repeal the “no promo homo” provision.
The Phoenix Democrat, who was just entering kindergarten when the law was approved in 1991, said he wished there’d been educators in his schools able to answer his questions about his own sexuality as a child.
“Things could have been a lot different, and I could have come out a lot sooner,” he said.
Ten of the Senate’s 17 Republicans opposed the law, including the sponsor of SB1394, Sen. Sylvia Allen – though the Snowflake Republican gave her consent to the amendment adopted in the House, a procedural move that allowed the bill to be voted on Thursday despite her opposition.
Allen said schools should remain “neutral ground” when it comes to social issues, and was saddened that she couldn’t garner support for an amendment that would’ve exempted children in kindergarten through fifth grade from AIDS and HIV education.
“I believe these little children need to come to school and just not have to be bombarded with certain things and pressures when they’re a very young age,” Allen said.
Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-GIlbert, noted that it was Democrats who led the charge to approve the initial AIDS education law – though it was conservative Republicans who amended the bill with language barring the promotion of homosexuality. Democrats nonetheless voted to approve the bill with the amendment, as did a dozen Republicans in 1991, out of concern the state could lose federal funding for sexual education at schools.
Farnsworth argued that the measure was never intended to be discriminatory, but was simply reflective of “the actual facts of HIV is disproportionately spread” in the gay community.
Farnsworth joined Allen and Republican Sens. Sonny Borrelli, David Farnsworth, David Gowan, Sine Kerr, Vince Leach, David Livingston, Tyler Pace and Michelle Ugenti-Rita in opposition to SB1394.