If Gay Marriage Is Allowed, Will Schools Promote It? California's Proposition 8 would define marriage as between a man and a woman. But its supporters say the issue is about more than marriage; it's about education. They say if gay marriage is allowed, it will lead to an endorsement of homosexuality in the classroom. Opponents of the measure argue that's not the case.
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If Gay Marriage Is Allowed, Will Schools Promote It?

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If Gay Marriage Is Allowed, Will Schools Promote It?

If Gay Marriage Is Allowed, Will Schools Promote It?

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick. In less than two weeks now, voters in California will decide whether gay marriage should be allowed under the state's constitution. If passed, Proposition 8 would ensure that only a marriage between a man and a woman would be valid.

COHEN: By law, marriage is an institution for those 18 years and older, but children much younger have recently become the focus of the Yes on 8 campaign. For the past two weeks, supporters of the initiative have been running an ad. It features a young girl who excitedly brings a book called "King and King" home to her mother.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Girl: Mom, guess what I learned in school today?

Unidentified Woman #1: What, sweetie?

Unidentified Girl: I learned how a prince married a prince. And I can marry a princess.

COHEN: That ad was based on the real life story of Robin and Robb Wirthlin, a Mormon couple from Massachusetts where gay marriage is legal. Two years ago, their son's teacher read "King and King" to a second grade class.

Ms. ROBIN WIRTHLIN: It was very confusing to him. We had...

Mr. ROBB WIRTHLIN: Sit him down and just explain that, as a family, we value a different way of thinking about marriage.

COHEN: The Wirthlins complained to their son's school.

Ms. WIRTHLIN: We wish that our school had told us they're going to be teaching about gay marriage, and we wish that we would have had the choice and the opportunity to excuse our child from class.

COHEN: Eventually, the Wirthlins filed a lawsuit. A U.S. circuit court of appeals ruled that public schools are not obliged to shield students from ideas which are potentially offensive to their parents. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Wirthlins' case. Around that same time, a group of public school first graders in San Francisco took a field trip to City Hall, where their teacher, Erin Carter, got married to another woman.

Unidentified Man #1: And do you, Carrie (ph), take this woman, Erin, to be your lawful wedded wife?


COHEN: The event was captured in an online video for the San Francisco Chronicle. When Erin Carter emerged from City Hall, she says she was surprised to find her students tossing rose petals.

Ms. ERIN CARTER: They've heard me talking about my wedding, and they know that I was out of school for a week to take my honeymoon, and I just can't believe they came today. I feel really blessed.

COHEN: The trip was optional and had been organized by parents, not the school. But supporters of Proposition 8 cite this story and the Wirthlins' case as proof that the gay marriage initiative could affect California's schools.

(Soundbite of chanting)

COHEN: This week, a group called Yes on 8 - Protect Marriage held a rally at a church in Sacramento, where campaign manager Frank Shubert (ph) addressed the crowd.

Mr. FRANK SHUBERT (Campaign Manager, Yes on 8 - Protect Marriage): But if you believe that children should be protected, that parents should have rights to talk to them on their own timetable, then you will vote yes on Proposition 8.

(Soundbite of cheering crowd)

COHEN: Kate Kendall of the No on 8 Campaign likens the tactics of her opponents to the ones used to defeat former presidential candidate John Kerrey. She argues that Prop 8's defeat will have no negative effect on kids, a message that's been echoed by Jack O'Connell, California's superintendant of schools.

Mr. JACK O'CONNELL (Superintendent of Schools, California): The Yes on Proposition 8 ads that I have seen are misleading, inaccurate, and they are really irrelevant to the initiative itself.

COHEN: O'Connell says, if Proposition 8 is defeated, that will have no bearing on the state's education code.

Mr. O'CONNELL: There is no requirement, no mandate for any school in the state of California to have this required as a course.

COHEN: Recently, the No on 8 campaign has been touting O'Connell's endorsement in radio and TV ads of their own.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man #2: They want to eliminate rights, and they're using lies to persuade you.

COHEN: Kate Kendall of the No on 8 campaign says she's saddened to see kids dragged into this political battle, but she says it's easy to see why that's happened.

Ms. KATE KENDALL: There is probably no more protective part of human nature than when a parent feels like they need to protect their children.

COHEN: Proposition 8 is one of 12 initiatives Californians will vote on come November 4th.

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