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MEGHAN DAUM

Teaching to the marriage test

October 04, 2008|MEGHAN DAUM

A television ad supporting Proposition 8 implies that gay marriage would have to be "taught" in California public schools unless the right of same-sex couples to marry is overturned. It makes me wonder: What exactly do you teach when you teach gay marriage? How to get same-sex weddings announced in the New York Times?

And, wait a second: If gay marriage would have to be taught, is heterosexual marriage already in the curriculum? Do teachers say "Today, boys and girls, we're going to learn about passive aggressive behavior related to laundry"? Are there workbook exercises called "Ten things I'm accusing you of that really have to do with my own insecurities"? And don't those lessons already cross over to gay marriage?

As it turns out, the only thing in the education code related to marriage has to do with teaching "the legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood." Moreover, it's only a requirement for school districts seeking state funds for health education, which not every school does.

In other words, no matter what happens with Proposition 8, "Secrets for Meeting and Marrying the Same-Sex Partner of Your Dreams" won't make the syllabus, at least not because of the education code the ad references. Granted, if gay marriage remains legal, a thoughtful teacher (especially of older kids) might see fit to acknowledge that fact. Call me a latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, personal-responsibility-touting lunatic, but that sounds pretty reasonable, because in so doing, he or she would be conveying the fact that no one, regardless of sexual orientation, is off the hook when it comes to marriage's legal and financial aspects.

As for the Proposition 8 supporters who apparently fear that such discussions would be tantamount to promoting gay marriage -- how can I say this without hurting your feelings? Perhaps your invitation to the popular culture's collective and ongoing celebration of same-sex matrimony has been lost in the mail, because I don't see how you could think that kids haven't already been "indoctrinated."

Let's see: There was People magazine's cover story about the wedding of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, and Brad Pitt's announcement that he won't marry his partner, Angelina Jolie, until "everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able." (Pitt also donated $100,000 to fighting Proposition 8.) There was that run on San Francisco City Hall the first time it was legal -- with pictures of happy couples all over every kind of news media. And then the second coming of all that, when the state Supreme Court weighed in.

Still, just because gay marriage is nothing new for the general public doesn't mean kids necessarily understand the complete concept. But that doesn't have as much to do with homosexuality as it does with the fact that some young people can't tell the difference between getting married and going on a really long date. So maybe marriage class should be mandatory -- with an emphasis not on gay or straight but, rather, "wait!" (As in, "until you're older.")

As inundated as young people are with superficial, misleading and often incredibly tacky messages about sex, they're barraged with equally superficial, misleading and often incredibly tacky messages about marriage. Don't believe me? Watch the Wedding Channel for just five minutes.

Of course, in many ways it was always thus -- or at least it has been since Queen Victoria transformed the white wedding gown from a garment into a genre -- the lavish "white wedding" -- unto itself. One cable wedding show, MTV's "Engaged and Underage," follows very young couples in the weeks before their weddings, and takes such a starry-eyed view of taffeta dresses and towering cakes that no amount of sobering "aftermath" footage can counteract the ultimate effect: glorifying what may well be the biggest mistake these kids will ever make.

Oh, and by the way, "Engaged and Underage" has featured a 19-year-old lesbian couple who met on MySpace and got engaged six weeks later. That's ground- breaking stuff, mostly because it proves that marriage-related stupidity isn't just for straight people anymore.

And that's why students need marriage-ed. They need it because we're being taught to associate marriage not with permanent commitment but with social status, diamond rings, gifts, throwing a big party and, for women, wearing a dress that doesn't necessarily fit through the door. As a result, many teens of all sexual orientations (and many adults too) not only confuse sex with love, they confuse the long-term implications of marriage with the short-term gratification of wedding and honeymoon planning.

No matter what happens with Proposition 8, the way the education code is worded, it's unlikely that a lot of classroom time will ever get devoted to thinking deeply about marriage of any brand. That's a shame, because what students desperately need to be steered toward is not straight marriage or gay marriage but grown-up marriage. Now that would be radical.

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mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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