Tennessee has passed a bill which allows parents to sue teachers or other involved parties for "promoting or condoning 'gateway sexual activity' by students, TIME reports.
According to The Huff Post, , it is not exactly clear what is meant by "gateway sexual activity," but many have interpreted it to mean things that could lead to sex such as kissing, hand holding, and cuddling.
The bill is in response to controversial activity which lawmakers believe are a consequence of sex-ed lessons that mentioned "alternatives to sexual intercourse," The Huff Post reports.
According to KnowNews.com, the debate over the bill on the House floor ranged from joking and mocking to complete seriousness. Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert mocked the idea of the bill as well.
"Gateway sexual activity is so vaguely defined it could be holding hands, hugging, anything that teenagers do like that," said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.
Stewart argued that this vagueness would punish a teacher for allowing a couple to kiss at prom or a girl to sit in her boyfriend's lap.
A proponent of the bill, Rep Jim Gotto, R-Nashville, said the new law would not cover activities like holding hands.
The bill states that "Gateway sexual activity means sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior."
Gotto said the "sexual activity" mentioned in the bill refers to sexual contact which is already mentioned in Tennessee's criminal code. He challenged Stewart to read that definition on the House floor, but Stewart decline, Knoxnews.com reports.
The legislation Gotto was referring to defines sexual contact as the "intentional touching" of another person's "intimate parts" including the "primary genital area, groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast of a human being."
Stewart argued that it was still unfair for teachers to be punished for failure to block what he deems are minor indiscretions by teenagers who just want to have some fun. For instance, what about lap sitting, or touching someone's inner thigh over their clothes?
According to TIME, the bill passed with a vote of 68-23. 60 Republicans and eight Democrats voted yes, while 22 Democrats and 1 Republican voted no.
Former senator David Fowler was largely responsible for drafting the bill. Fowler is now head of the Family Action Council of Tennesee. The FACT website
says the bill was inspired partly "by an episode a Nashville high school where a contract instructor used graphic illustrations of sexual organ in a class." The website says a key feature of the bill will be to make organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which provide sexual education information in schools, subject to a $500 civil fine, the same fine teachers will receive for not blocking "gateway sexual activity."