A bill to protect students from bullying by their classmates died Tuesday in the House Education Committee because some lawmakers worried it would give “special rights” to gay students.
The proposal by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Louisville Democrat, failed to get the 15 votes it needed. The party-line vote was 13 in favor, 10 against and three abstentions.
Most of the Republicans who voted against the bill said a 2008 law sponsored by Rep. Mike Cherry, D- Princeton, is a national model and sufficient. But Marzian, who mentioned that Cherry was a sponsor of her bill, said hers was stronger because it identifies classes of students to be protected.
The bill mentioned abuse that is motivated “by a student’s actual or perceived race; color; religion; national origin; ancestry or ethnicity; sexual orientation; physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability; gender; gender identity and expression; or other distinguishing personal characteristic.”
Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he feared that any statute that did not protect a Christian student’s First Amendment rights to disagree with a gay student about whether homosexuality is acceptable could subject the Christian student to punishment for harassment.
Logan said Marzian’s bill would not do that.
Waide said the issue was about equal protection, but that “you can’t achieve equality by making some persons more equal than others.”
The 2008 legislation was a move in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough, said Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington.
“Some children need more protection than others,” she said, adding that legislators must be “living in outer space” if they deny that.
Palumbo, who said she is a parent of a suicide victim, said the existing law is not a model and that she was embarrassed by her colleagues. She said that some gay and lesbian people are Christians.
“ They do not choose their sexual orientation,” she said.
The vote followed lengthy testimony by parents and other survivors of students who had committed suicide as a result of harassment and abuse.
Darryl Denham of Covington, whose son, Sam, killed himself Oct. 14, said he has since heard of other students in Sam’s school who have been harassed, and that a survey found that 75 percent of the students in that school think bullying is a serious problem.
“The test of a moral society is what it does for our children,” he said.
Zoe Chin, a friend of Sam’s, said after the vote that she thought the legislators should have considered how they would feel if their own children were victims of abuse “instead of being politicians.” She called those who opposed the bill “homophobic.”
Travis Campbell of Hopkinsville said his daughter Miranda, who was “bisexual and unashamed of it,” took her life Feb. 4 after being constantly harassed. Campbell said that one-third of homosexual, bisexual or transgender students attempt suicide.
Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, said her husband is a school resource counselor.
“I know about harassment. I hear about it at night,” she said, but “adding more verbiage” to statutory law would not strengthen it.