A vote on a parental rights law in Alabama was postponed after a long debate in House Tuesday, in which lawmakers called the legislation “confusing” and accused its author of personal motives.
HB6, authored by Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, prohibits the government from encroaching on the “fundamental rights of parents” unless it is “narrowly tailored” and there is an “overriding state interest”.
The bill does not create any new rights or take away any, Paschal said. Instead, he said HB6 is a “proactive” bill intended to codify existing case law that emphasizes the importance of a parent’s role in a child’s life.
Paschal’s bill passed the committee without objection last month. But debate over the bill and a proposed amendment quickly got personal on Tuesday.
Read more: Parent Rights Bill Progress: What Would an Alabama Bill Do?
“I have a problem when you come here and talk about fundamental rights when you just take away and try to take away the rights of those who depend so much on us coming here today,” Rep. Juandalynn Givan said , D-Jefferson County, Paschal said at the booth, claiming Paschal brought the bill because of a “personal situation.”
Debate on the bill
“In Alabama, we’re doing a great job on defense,” Paschal said Tuesday while explaining the legislation. “But if you stay on defense, you lose ground.”
As of Tuesday, House Democrats questioned Paschal about the intent of the legislation and whether it would affect ongoing child custody cases or the work of other state agencies to protect children.
Givan suggested the bill was another attempt to change state guidelines on child custody. In 2022, Paschal filed a bill that would weight family court custody decisions toward joint custody. It did not work.
“Who don’t we trust?” Rep. AJ McCampbell, D-Demopolis, asked Paschal. “Are we saying we don’t trust ourselves? Are we saying we don’t trust the citizens of Alabama?”
“This bill is not about child custody,” said Paschal. “This bill seeks to recognize the simple fact that … children are a gift from above, God. So we have God, parents and the government, and you have to fix them.”
Others have criticized Paschal’s voting behavior on other child health and safety issues.
“When things like this come to mind, we have to go the way,” said Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham.
Two Republicans supported the law.
Rep. Ernie Yarbrough, R-Trinity, called it an important safeguard against so-called efforts to “destroy family sovereignty.”
“The reason this bill is important is because it attacks the fundamental principle of parental rights,” he said, citing current debates about gender-affirming care, which he called “chemical castration,” and efforts to examine classroom and teacher training materials .
“God does not live in confusion”
Critics have sounded the alarm about similar parental rights laws recently passed in conservative states.
Last year, Florida passed a similar-language law targeting parental rights, restricting certain curriculum and classes. At least 14 other states have followed suit.
In a recent interview with AL.com, Ailen Arreaza, executive director of the nonprofit research organization ParentsTogether, said that parenting rights bills like Alabama’s are “deliberately vague” efforts to “distract and divide parents.”
Other supporters told The Reflector they were concerned the bill did not define “unsuitable parents” and feared its broad language could criminalize parents of transgender youth.
“I’d like to think the law would include me, my husband and our doctor’s judgments about what’s best for my transgender child, but somehow I feel like they see transgender people as ‘compelling reason.’ would deny my rights,” Cardelia Howell-Diamond, a parent of two transgender teenagers, told The Reflector.
At the stand, Paschal repeatedly brought up biblical references to the role of parents in their children’s lives and called his bill a protection of “God and Country.”
“When you bring God into this conversation, God does not dwell in confusion,” said Rep. Barry Forte, D-Eufaula. “You sound like this bill is personal to you. Is it or isn’t it?”
After further questioning, Paschal said the bill was sponsored by about six different organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal advocacy group that campaigns against LGBTQ issues.
In an oral vote, the House voted to transfer the bill to the Chairperson’s nomination. It can be put on a calendar to be discussed at a later date.