HELENA — The Montana House of Representatives voted Monday to allow parents to withdraw their children from K-12 sexual education programs in public schools.

Supporters said the vote was a step toward expanding parental rights over what their children are taught in school about the morality and the appropriate role of sex in America.

The House voted http://laws.leg.mt.gov/laws11/LAW0211W$BLAC.VoteTabulation?P_VOTE_SEQ=H606"> 71-29 for House Bill 456, sponsored by Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, who said parents, not government, should teach their children about sex.

“Human sexuality is not only about biology, physiology and anatomy,” Smith said. “It is about relationships that are important  to us as a society.”

He highlighted the difference between Montanans who believe sex should be reserved for committed couples with the goal of procreation and those that believe it is a recreational activity to be practiced safely.

But Rep. Sue Malek, D-Missoula, protested Smith’s moral suggestions. “I guess if sex is only about procreation, my husband and I should have stopped having sex years ago,” she said.

Smith’s bill also would ban programs that offer abortions from teaching in the schools, and he targeted Planned Parenthood as a pro-abortion political activist organization.

“They support comprehensive sex ed,” Smith said.

As he spoke, Montana university students in the House gallery pulled on white shirts supporting free choice and grimaced at Smith’s characterization of Planned Parenthood.

Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, defended comprehensive sex ed as a proven method to reduce the number of people who contract sexually transmitted diseases or have unplanned pregnancies.

But Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, said he supported Smith’s bill because it reduces the time educators waste on less important studies.

“I spent three decades teaching at an elementary school,” Regier said. “Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the keys of education.”

Some school education programs even encourage inappropriate sexual “exploration” among young children, said Rep. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre, who read  a passage from a sex-ed booklet.

Others argued that the content of their sex ed programs should remain the responsibility of locally elected school boards.

But the bill’s supporters argued that parents should make the final call about  what their children learn about sex.

“This is about local control — local control in my house,” said Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell.