Updated: February 25, 2009 at 12:00 am
DENVER • State Sen. Dave Schultheis was the lone "no" vote Wednesday on a bill requiring pregnant women to be tested for HIV so their babies can be treated to prevent the transfer of the virus if the mother tests positive.
He explained that if the babies are born HIV-positive, they will teach society about the risks of promiscuous sex.
"This stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part, and I just can't go there," the Colorado Springs Republican said. "We do things continually to remove the consequences of poor behavior, unacceptable behavior, quite frankly."
Other legislators reacted with outrage. Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, said she was offended by the remark because she thought it reinforced stereotypes about gay promiscuity.
"Where is the Republican leadership on all this?" asked Veiga, one of two openly gay Colorado legislators.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry said he's not going to muzzle his caucus, although he has reminded his colleagues "we should never lose sight of the humanity of people on the other side of an issue."
"People are entitled to their opinions," said the Grand Junction Republican, who voted for the HIV testing bill. "It's not my job to go around and censure people and tell them what to say."
It was the second time in three days at the state Capitol that a Republican senator's remarks about sexuality have caused an uproar.
On Monday, Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, likened the sin of homosexuality to murder during debate on a bill to extend health care benefits to the partners of gay state workers.
"What are they doing over there?" asked Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, referring to the Senate. "I find their comments inappropriate and offensive, and I question their motives."
Asked for clarification, Schultheis defended his remarks. "If you continue to remove the consequences, you are de facto endorsing the behavior," he said. "For any behavior, if society begins to see the consequences, they will start to discuss the behavior in those terms."
"In the end," he said, "I think people will be like, ‘Gosh, That's a terrible thing.' They'll say, ‘We don't want that to happen, so we have to tell our daughters, don't be promiscuous, because you could have a baby like that.'"
He explained that not protecting people from the consequences of sexual promiscuity can be more compassionate in the long run because others might end up changing how they live after seeing the impact it can have.
Schultheis, a strident foe of abortion, accused Democrats of hypocrisy.
"They go to extreme lengths to try to protect the fetus," he said. "On the other hand they're willing to pass laws that allow abortions or will not reduce abortions."
The comment that touched off the controversy came during a vote on SB179, which makes several changes to state law concerning communicable diseases. One of the provisions is the HIV test requirement, although pregnant women can opt out.
The sponsor, Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, pointed out that not everyone who is HIV-positive got it through sexual contact.
Tochtrop, a nurse, said the risk of transferring the virus from mother to baby during the pregnancy or delivery can be reduced from 25 percent to 2 percent with medication and preventive care.
Former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, was puzzled by Schultheis' vote.
"It's extremely inconsistent for any person who is pro-life to oppose this effort to potentially save the life of a child," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.