California Marriage Debate Focuses on Youth Education

( [email protected] ) Oct 24, 2008 01:56 PM EDT
Both sides of the California same-sex marriage debate are sparring over whether the defeat of Proposition 8 would force public schools to include gay marriage in their instruction.
Robb Wirthlin, right, and his wife Robin, who appear in a television advertisement in support of Proposition 8, hold a book called King & King as they talk about how they challenged gay marriage instruction in Massachusetts schools during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 20, 2008. (Photo: AP Images / Steve Yeater)

Both sides of the California same-sex marriage debate are sparring over whether the defeat of Proposition 8 would force public schools to include gay marriage in their instruction.

Prop. 8, if passed, would amend the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman and reverse the California Supreme Court decision in May that legalized same-sex marriages.

The "Yes on 8" campaign argues that the failure to pass Prop. 8 would grant public schools a free pass to "indoctrinate" children on gay marriage and homosexuality.

The "No on 8" campaign, however, claims that the measure has nothing to do with schools, saying schools are not required to teach about marriage.

Two of the more recent TV ads released by the campaign in support of Prop. 8 have focused on the effect on youth education if the ballot initiative fails.

In one ad, a mother asks her daughter what she learned in school today. The girl hands her mother a book entitled, King and King, and says, "I learned that a prince can marry a prince and I can marry a princess."

The most recent ad, which begin airing this week, features a Massachusetts couple who went to court over the King and King book when it was read to their second-grade son. The couple warns Californians that gay marriage will also be taught in elementary schools unless Prop. 8 is approved.

In response, opponents to the marriage amendment fired back a new TV ad on Wednesday. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell appears in the "No on 8" ad, telling viewers that "our schools aren't required to teach anything about marriage."

California State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell spoke out Tuesday against the "Yes on 8" ads, calling them "misleading." He insisted that there was "nothing" in the state law that required public instruction on marriage.

"[I]n fact, curriculum involving health issues is chosen by local school governing boards," stated O'Connell.

According to Chip White, spokesman for the "Yes on 8" campaign, however, it is statements such as O’Connell’s that are misleading.

Although public schools are not required by law to teach about marriage, schools that teach about sex education must also teach about marriage, White points out, citing California Department of Education's (CDE) own guidelines.

"O'Connell's cleverly worded denials try to trick voters into thinking schools do not teach about marriage," remarked White. "But for the 96% of public schools that teach sex education, state law requires them to teach about marriage."

While state law does not mandate sex education, local school districts that decide to provide this education must comply with a CDE requirement, which states: "Instruction shall encourage communication between students and their families and shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships."

"Perhaps if O'Connell spent less time making false statements in TV ads, he'd have more time to read his own website," said White.

The "Yes on 8" campaign sent a letter to O'Connell and Mitchell on Wednesday, demanding that they retract their "misstatements." The letter, signed by attorney Andrew P. Pugno, identifies Education Code sections that demonstrate public schools do teach about marriage.

Recent incidents involving children and matters related to gay marriage in public schools have alarmed many of the measure's supporters.

Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a group of first-graders, aged five and six, were taken on a field trip to City Hall last week to watch the wedding of their teacher and her lesbian partner.

This week, one couple was shocked to learn that "Coming Out Day" would be celebrated on Thursday at their daughter's K-8 Charter school in Hayward.

The school, which is celebrating Gay and Lesbian History Month, will next month host "TransAction Gender-Bender Read-Aloud," where students will hear adapted tales such as "Jane and the Beanstalk." The mother also learned that her daughter's kindergarten classroom is regularly used during lunchtime for meetings of a Gay Straight Alliance club. The parents are being advised by attorneys from the California-based Pacific Justice Institute.

"Do we need any further proof that gay activists will target children as early as possible?" asked Brad Dacus, president of the Christian-based law firm.

"Opponents of traditional marriage keep telling us that Prop. 8 has nothing to do with education. In reality, they want to push the gay lifestyle on kindergartners, and we can only imagine how much worse it will be if Prop. 8 is defeated. This is not a scenario most Californians want replayed in their elementary schools."

Across the nation, pro-family groups are remaining vigilant on the measure's progress.

The latest poll on the measure shows Prop. 8 trailing, with 52 percent of those likely to vote opposed and 44 percent in favor. The poll was conducted between Oct. 12 to Oct. 19 by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Other polls conducted in early October by SurveyUSA and other groups had indicated support for the measure was in the lead by two or three points.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, has urged his constituents to vote and help Prop.8 supporters in whatever way possible, calling the measure "the single most important issue on the ballot this election."

Arizona and Florida will also vote on constitutional marriage amendments on the November ballot. This will be Arizona's second attempt to pass the measure while Florida is looking for a 60 percent majority to effectively ban same-sex marriage.