A girl in
pigtails bounds into the kitchen after school and asks her
mother to guess what she learned that day. "I learned how a
prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess,"
she exclaims to her mortified mom.
advertisement for a ballot initiative that would ban
same-sex marriage in California urges voters to "protect
children" by approving the measure.
There's not a
word about education in Proposition 8, but what public
schools will be required to teach about same-sex marriage
has emerged as the central issue in the campaign.
supporters warn that teachers will be forced to tell young
children about gay marriage if the measure fails on November
Opponents of the
measure say that's deceptive because schools already are
required to teach tolerance of gays and lesbians, and the
ballot measure won't change that.
"I've seen the
spots on the TV, and [legalized gay marriage] just
isn't going to require any kind of teaching of personal
relationships or lifestyle," said state superintendent
of public instruction Jack O'Connell, who has joined
the state's largest teachers union in opposing the
measure. "That's just not an accurate statement or
To combat antigay
discrimination, California schools have addressed
topics such as gay households, homophobia, and sexual
orientation for years, well before the state supreme
court made same-sex marriage legal this year. But how
school districts choose to deliver that instruction is
decided locally instead of mandated by the state, according
to educators and legal experts.
Proposition 8 -- which would overrule the state
supreme court decision -- received fodder for
their claims earlier this month. With parental
permission, a public charter school took 18 first-graders
on a field trip to San Francisco City Hall where their
teacher and her female partner had just been wed by
Mayor Gavin Newsom.
"The other side's
argument is [Prop. 8] has nothing to do with
education. Our argument is this has everything to do with
education," said Chip White, a Proposition 8
spokesman. "It's already happening."
52,000 children are being raised by two mothers or two
fathers in California, which is one of 12 states with
comprehensive anti-bullying laws that apply to gay
students and children with unconventional families.
schools have acquired books depicting families with
same-sex couples, middle schools have taught students not to
use antigay slurs, and high schools have sanctioned
gay-straight alliance clubs. And school districts have
been found liable for not taking steps to prevent
mother-daughter campaign ad refers to King and
King, a children's book about two princes marrying that
became the subject of a lawsuit in Massachusetts, the
first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. The
parents of a second-grader sued after the book was
read in class, but the school district successfully argued
that advance notice of the reading was not required
because the book was not part of the sex education
Proposition 8 point out that many schools in California
already use King and King and other books to
discourage discrimination against gay students or children
with gay parents.
code already has a high expectation that school
districts are going to create an environment where respect
for human dignity and acceptance of differences,
including sexual orientation, are promoted," said
Laura Schulkind, a San Francisco lawyer who represents
school districts across California. "I don't see how the
legalization of gay marriage or the passage of Prop. 8
changes that obligation."
The need for such
awareness training was brought home to California in
February, when a 15-year-old who sometimes wore feminine
clothing and talked about being gay was shot to death
at his Oxnard junior high school. A classmate has
pleaded not guilty to murder and hate-crime charges.
"We have to
address harassment and bullying, and there is no way to
do that in America without talking about gay people," said
Debra Chasnoff, an Oscar-winning filmmaker who has
made four documentaries to address antigay harassment
sides have debated what, if anything, schools must teach
about marriage now that gays have the right to wed.
education code specifies that marriage should be discussed
in sex education classes. But school districts are not
required to hold the classes and parents can have
their children excused if the course conflicts with
their moral values. The vast majority of California
districts teach sex ed.
law does not require school districts to teach
anything about marriage or same-sex marriage," Sacramento
County superior court judge Timothy Frawley wrote in
ruling on Proposition 8's ballot arguments. He added,
however, that the state "may require" such instruction
in the future.
Robin Sinks, the
health education specialist for the 90,000-student Long
Beach Unified School District, does not think what is taught
in California schools will change much regardless of
what happens on Election Day.
large, diverse districts now strive to make their sex
education lessons relevant to straight, gay, and bisexual
students, Sinks said. "We're talking about really
refraining from using things like, husband-wife,
boyfriend-girlfriend, those kind of things, and just say
'partner,'" she said.
Gary Marksbury, a
history teacher at Lakewood High School in Long Beach,
plans to let his students debate Proposition 8 during a mock
election, but he is so strongly opposed to gay
marriage that he donated $1,000 to support the
California should give parents more latitude to pull their
children out of courses that offend their religious beliefs.
"In today's world," he said, "it seems like tolerance
is a one-way street for some people, so if you don't
like the idea of same-gender marriage you are
immediately labeled a bigot."
local districts authority -- and in the case of sex
education, the imperative -- to adopt curricula that
reflect community mores while meeting certain
standards. So what students hear about homosexuality
in Long Beach schools may be different from what they learn
in the more conservative Central Valley.
a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont,
is not worried about having to explain same-sex marriage to
her pupils. During her 17 years teaching kindergarten,
Robertson says no one has ever told her to talk about
any kind of marriage with her pupils.
If one of her
pupils asked if he could marry his best buddy, Robertson
said her answer would be age-appropriate.
"I would say,
'Wait and see, you have to be grown-up first,'" she
said. (Lisa Leff and Juliet Williams, AP)