October 28, 2009

‘Gay studies’ in the schools used to ‘swift boat’ the same-sex partnership and marriage debates in Washington and Maine

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rita_hibbardwebWashington state isn’t the only state with a gay marriage or partnership issue on the ballot. In Maine, voters are deciding whether to repeal the state’s new same-sex marriage law. Supporters of the new law are hoping that gay couples there don’t lose the right to marry just six months after they gained it, just like they did in California last year.

As in Maine, voters in Washington are being asked whether they want to keep a new law on the books. The Washington law establishes a gay domestic partnership, the so-called “everything but marriage” law.

In Washington, the fight is getting down and dirty, and opponents of the gay domestic partnership law are now warning that if Ref. 71 is approved, it will lead to gay studies in public schools, KUOW reporter Austin Jenkins reports.

The Reject 71 campaign says the new law will allow public schools “to teach that gay marriage is normal and healthy whether parents approve or not.”

But Rep. Jamie Pederson, a gay lawmaker who sponsored the domestic partnership bill in the House, says there is no language in the bill about schools. What gets taught in the classroom is up to local schoolboards, says Pedersen, who has four children with his partner. However, he’s not saying that discussions of gay partnerships would be ruled out of public school classrooms.

 “If there are enough families that are like mine, and there are quite a few in Seattle, then I don’t know why it might not be inappropriate for a teacher to introduce that concept at some point.”

The debate is reminiscent of that in California just about a year ago, when supporters of Proposition 8 ran television ads using the scare tactic that kids would be taught gay marriage as part of the public school curriculum. Prop 8, approved by voters in November of 2008, ensured that only marriage between a man and a woman is legal, overturning a state law establishing same-sex marriage. The ads featured a little girl who brought home a book called King and King.

“Mom, guess what I learned in school today,” she says in the ad. “I learned how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess!”

The schools issue also is on fire in Maine. There, opponents of the gay marriage law dispute a claim by the state attorney general that the state’s new law won’t affect curriculum in the public schools.

The New York Times reports that the Maine battle over gay rights comes at a crucial point in the same-sex marriage movement.

“Still reeling from last year’s defeat in California, gay-rights advocates say a defeat here could further a perception that only judges and politicians embrace same-sex marriage. If Maine’s law is upheld, however, it would be the movement’s first victory at the ballot box; voters in about 30 states have banned same-sex marriage. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont allow gay couples to marry, but courts and legislatures, not voters, made it possible.

The choice Washington voters make also will be closely watched, and influential in the national debate. This is an important discussion that shouldn’t be ‘swift-boated’ with inflammatory language like ‘gay studies’ in the public schools.

— Rita Hibbard

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