Whether schools will have to “teach gay marriage” dominates Prop 8 debate

by on October 20, 2008  •  In Elections, Marriage

The debate over Prop 8 in California has shifted dangerously so that it now seems to be centered on the ground where anti-marriage equality opponents most want it: the allegedly scary impact of legalized gay marriage on the children of non-gay families. Excerpts from a weekend article in the L A Times are below.

The trigger for the current media attention to the schoolchildren issue was a class trip by first-graders in San Francisco to see their lesbian teacher marry her partner (see below). But advocates for Prop 8 have been painting a threatening picture of public schools being forced to teach children that gay and straight marriage are equally legitimate since they submitted that as one of the arguments to be included on the California ballot. (Background here ) The ballot wording was litigated by both sides. Opponents of Prop 8 won a huge victory in keeping the Attorney General's office phrasing of the question as whether to "eliminate" the right to marry for gay couples. But a version of the school threat also remains on the ballot as one of the "pro" arguments for voters to consider. Final language here.

In addition, the anti-equality groups have been using promotional materials based on a Massachusetts case in which parents unsuccessfully challenged a school's diversity curriculum for including positive materials about gay people and same-sex marriage.  See previous posts, including a video, here and  here.

The anti-equality forces have long struggled with formulating an answer to the question of how same-sex marriage hurts the marriage of straight couples.  In focusing on these school issues, they think they've finally solved that problem.

Meanwhile, for the next two weeks, San Francisco is lengthening the hours when couples can obtain marriage licenses, to accommodate a growing sense of now or never.

Los Angeles Times

Jessica Garrison

It was supposed to be a 90-minute excursion, a noontime field trip for a group of San Francisco charter school students and their parents to see the kids' lesbian teacher marry her partner in a wedding performed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

But after the event was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle and picked up by cable television and the Internet, the first-graders at Creative Arts Charter School found themselves at the center of the hottest battle in the campaign over gay marriage: the question of whether failure to pass Proposition 8 would result in widespread classroom discussions of same-sex unions.

Supporters of the constitutional amendment, under which marriage would be defined as only between a man and a woman, contend that if Proposition 8 does not pass, gay marriage will be taught in public schools. "We are already seeing that happen," said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Yes on 8.

The opposing side insists that this is fear-mongering and notes that there is no mention of schools or curriculum in the language of the proposition….

To buttress their case, Proposition 8 supporters point to a legal decision out of Massachusetts, where same-sex couples have been able to wed since 2004. After a second-grade teacher in Lexington read a book to her students that included two princes marrying, the parents of a child in the class sued the school district….The child's parents will be featured in a new Proposition 8 ad that will begin airing this week.

School districts and the California Department of Education, meanwhile, are getting a steady stream of calls from the media and parents wanting to know whether gay marriage will be taught in schools if Proposition 8 is defeated. The answer, it turns out, is slightly more complicated than can be captured in the 30-second television advertisements put out by both sides.

There is nothing in the state education code that requires schools to teach anything about marriage. Even the decision about whether to offer comprehensive sex education is left up to individual school districts. What state law does require is that districts that offer sex education "teach respect for marriage and committed relationships."

Districts have taken different approaches.

The Los Angeles Unified School District offers ninth-graders a "Life Skills" class that deals with a variety of issues, including personal identity and relationships. A district spokeswoman said marriage is not a specific part of that curriculum but could come up as part of classroom discussion.

In Fresno, meanwhile, district policy is that teachers do not address the subject of gay marriage in the classroom; students who ask about it are told to raise the issue with their families, according to district officials.

Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, said she was unaware of any district that had changed its curriculum as a result of the California Supreme Court's May ruling allowing same-sex marriage.

Still, recognizing how politically potent the issue is, the Yes on 8 campaign has made it the center of its television advertising campaign.

"Mom, guess what I learned in school today?" a little girl says in one spot. "I learned how a prince married a prince."…


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