The California Teachers Assn. donated $1 million this week to defeat a ballot initiative seeking to ban same-sex marriage in California, joining the ranks of wealthy gay rights activists and Hollywood politicos as one of the major donors to the campaign.
"For us, it's a civil rights issue," said the association's President David Sanchez. "We don't believe people should be treated differently."
The teachers union also takes issue with advertisements by backers of Proposition 8 suggesting that the measure would stop children from being taught about gay marriage in schools. Union leaders echoed complaints by the No on 8 campaign that the ads are misleading because California law already prohibits teaching any child health issues without parental consent.
But the Yes on 8 campaign responded that the ads show what happened in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal and taught to second graders in public schools after a court battle in which parents lost the right to opt their children out of the lessons.
Until now, the largest donation the No on 8 campaign had received from a labor union was $500,000 from the Service Employees International Union.
"We're incredibly proud of the working men and women in California who are supporting the No on 8 campaign," said spokeswoman Ali Bay.
Supporters of the proposition said the teachers union did not speak for all of its members on the issue of gay marriage.
"I think the California Teachers Assn. is well-known to be a political group, and it's not the first time it has not represented the true voice of its members," said Sonja Eddings Brown, spokeswoman for Protect Marriage California, the measure's backer.
She said she agreed that the issue is civil rights -- not those of gay couples, but rather those of children to be raised by a mother and a father.
The $1-million donation comes on the heels of an internal poll by opponents of Proposition 8 showing that the campaign to defeat the measure was in trouble. The teachers union had already contributed $250,000 to the campaign this summer.
Sanchez said the donations were "a pittance" compared with what religious groups have donated to proponents of the initiative.
Yes on 8 reported it had raised $25.4 million as of two weeks ago, Eddings said, but contributions have continued rolling in since then. The group's major donors have been religious groups and their members. The Knights of Columbus, for instance, has donated $1 million.
The No on 8 campaign stepped up fundraising efforts after realizing that it was $10 million behind backers of the initiative, with only about $15 million in donations as of Sept. 30, Bay said. It has since raised an additional $5 million, she said.