Maine gay marriage debate centers on public education

The battle over gay marriage in Maine is playing out on the television airwaves and in voter perceptions in the public education arena. Commercials sponsored by Stand For Marriage Maine/Yes on 1 claim that the state’s schoolchildren will be forced to consider homosexual marriages as acceptable. This has drawn fire from Protect Maine Equality/No on 1, which has claimed the ads are scare tactics designed to prompt Maine voters into thinking that students will be taught to consider concepts their parents may not endorse. In response to the controversy, Maine’s education commissioner, Susan Gendron, has publicly asked Attorney General Janet Mills to investigate the legal ramifications of a Massachusetts case Stand for Marriage Maine claims has opened the door for parents being unable to object if and when their students are taught about homosexuality in school. The case, which was brought in federal court, is Parker v. Hurley. A link to the case is below. In the case, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals said the state’s interest in combating discrimination outweighed parental claims of immoral indoctrination. Massachusetts was the first state in the country to approve of gay marriage five years ago. According to J.C. Consendine, media relations director for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, directly addressing gay marriage appears nowhere in the state’s academic standards. “There is no mandate in Massachusetts that any schools teach about either same sex or opposite sex marriage,” Consedine told Everyday Christian in an e-mail. “There also is no requirement that schools use any particular books or materials, since Massachusetts is a local control state. Each district decides the topics to cover, and the materials and methods to use and what an appropriate scope and sequence is for curricula in all subjects.” There are recommendations in Massachusetts standards, however, which deal with sexual orientation, Consendine said. They are: • By 5th grade students are expected to be able to “Define sexual orientation using the correct terminology (such as heterosexual, and gay and lesbian)”; • By the end of 8th grade they “Identify sexual discrimination and harassment”; • By the end of 12th grade they “Identify possible determinants of sexual orientation and analyze the weight of each in light of available research” and “Describe the influence of gender on identity and self-concept.” David Connerty Marin, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Education, told the Bangor Daily News earlier this week that the term “marriage” does not appear in state standards and that diversity education has been part of the standards for years. In a blog this week on the No on 1 Website, a Portland attorney who supports gay marriage backed up the notion of the ads being a scare tactic. “These ads are a blatant distortion of the law,” said Michael Asen. “As legal professionals, many of us felt a responsibility to stand up and make sure Mainers know the truth about the law.” Bob Emrich, however, isn’t buying it. Emrich is a Plymouth pastor and was a key figure in leading the drive to gather petition signatures over the summer to prompt the “people’s veto” vote of the gay marriage law passed by the Legislature and approved by Gov. John Baldacci last spring. He is now a leading organizer and speaker for Yes on 1. Emrich said that Education Commissioner Gendron asking Attorney General Mills to probe Parker v. Hurley is thinly veiled political trickery. “The attorney general testified at a public hearing in favor of this new law and the education commissioner serves at pleasure of governor,” Emrich said. “To expect this to be objective is like asking a Catholic bishop to give his theological opinion on the (gay marriage) bill … It’s not OK for parents to not be able to have their kids opt out of instruction they feel is inappropriate. The federal case we cite shows the likelihood of what will happen here. People are beginning to realize there a lot of potential consequences to letting the law stand as it is.” Emrich said local television reports have showed a Portland-area school discussing homosexuality as part of diversity education and claimed that state education officials have advocated a “Rainbow Star” proposal where schools would be rewarded for openly discussing homosexuality. “I understand there isn’t any state mandate that deals with any specifics, but it isn’t hard to understand how this will fundamentally change how this issue can be discussed in schools,” he said. “I think it’s just bizarre how some people are saying same-sex marriage won’t be talked about in schools and families have no way to avoid it if they don’t feel comfortable with it.” Mark Sullivan, communications director for No on 1, countered that the opposition’s ads were a red herring. “Our counterpoint is that what is at stake on Nov. 3 is fairness and equality, nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “There is nothing in Question 1 that addresses school curriculum. We have a report signed by two former Maine attorneys general and distinguished legal scholars from Maine who have weighed in and said these charges are groundless. What we want to talk about is what already brings us together, which is keeping our kids safe in a secure and nurturing environment in our schools.” Sullivan also pointed out that No on 1’s ads featured primarily Maine residents. “Our campaign is focused on Maine,” he said. “Of course we know what happened in California (with Proposition 8) and some of their ads have the Massachusetts couple that appeared in ads there last year. We’re aware of that. We are concerned just about our families here. One columnist pointed out that our jammed with Maine people, and these were people who were enthusiastic to have their families represented.” Early voting has started in Maine, but Emrich said all indications are that the turnout is very light. While a recent poll has not been published he said that he thinks both sides believe the vote will be close. He added that he thought the recent ads addressing education were helping Yes on 1 gain traction. “Overall, I think it’s going well,” he said. “I like where we are. We are seeing a lot of movement as people pay closer attention to the issues. What the other side said about our ads at first was a little unnerving at first. Their ads have a nice soft touch to them, but they don’t address the issues. I think as we have started talking about education, people realize there are real implications and consequences to this law.” Links: Stand for Marriage Maine “Safe Schools” ad: Parker v. Hurley: WGME-TV (Portland, Maine) coverage of the ad debate: Stand for Marriage Maine: Protect Maine Equality:

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  1. PolishBear said:

    This scare-mongering about Gay marriage being “taught” in public schools is really pathetic. What sort of situation exists in public schools now? NEVER in all my years of public schooling did I ever hear a teacher proclaim the wonders and benefits of marriage for Straight (i.e. heterosexual) couples. Teachers weren’t telling students, “Hey, guess what, kids? If you’re Straight, you get to marry and have kids and live happily ever after, because THAT’S what’s legal!” The notion that kids are going to be “taught” that same-sex marriage is acceptable is a red herring. It’s a tactic designed to deflect attention away from the fact that there is absolutely no Constitutional justification for denying law-abiding, taxpaying Gay couples the exactly same legal benefits and responsibilities that Straight couples have always taken for granted. I don’t remember any “marriage curriculum” in any of the schools I went to. But when marriage equality for Gay couples does become a reality (as it eventually will), I imagine such a curriculum would probably go something like this: “If you are Straight, it is normal and acceptable to marry another Straight person of the opposite sex. If you are Gay, it is normal and acceptable to marry another Gay person of the same sex. End of story.” CHUCK ANZIULEWICZ

    October 10, 2009

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