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TN Abstinence Bill May Nix Hugs, Hand-Holding

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on May 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Tennessee lawmakers want teenagers to just say no to premarital sex -- along with "gateway sexual activity" that may be interpreted to include hugs and hand-holding, critics claim.

The Volunteer State's House and Senate have approved a bill that would revamp the state's sex-education curriculum, The Tennessean reports. The proposed curriculum would focus on abstinence, and would prohibit teachers from promoting "any gateway sexual activity."

But the bill, as passed, doesn't spell out exactly what acts are considered to be "gateway sexual activity." It's also not clear whether Tennessee's Republican governor will sign the bill into law.

Gov. Bill Haslam told The Tennessean the abstinence bill remains under review. "I don't know enough to comment on that one yet," he said Tuesday.

Under Tennessee law, Haslam has 10 days, not including Sundays, to sign the bill or veto it -- something he's never done since taking office last year, The Tennessean reports. If Haslam takes no action within the 10-day period, the bill will automatically become law.

Critics fear the Tennessee abstinence bill will prohibit sex-ed teachers from discussing topics like contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

Further, the bill's ban on gateway sexual activity "is so vaguely defined it could be holding hands, hugging, anything that teenagers do like that," Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The abstinence bill defines gateway sexual activity as "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." So in theory, if a teacher sees a girl sit in a boy's lap and takes no action, that teacher could be subject to a fine and discipline for condoning "gateway sexual activity," Stewart suggested.

But the Tennessee abstinence bill's supporters challenged that interpretation. "Everyone ... knows what gateway sexual activity is," one Democratic lawmaker said, according to the News Sentinel.

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