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ENDORSEMENTS 2008

A lesson about Prop. 8

Despite what proponents say, its defeat would not change what California's schools teach.

October 21, 2008

Californians tend to be an open-minded crowd that wouldn't take kindly to a campaign attacking homosexuality or attempting to strip away people's rights. So the well-financed and savvy backers of Proposition 8 have produced waves of advertising aimed instead at making voters believe that supporters of same-sex marriage are intent on stripping away everyone else's rights, and that this ballot measure is the only way for traditionally religious people to retain them.

With the defeat of this proposed ban on gay marriage, they say, schools would begin indoctrinating children as young as kindergartners to be wholehearted supporters of such marriages. The ads point to the case of a Massachusetts teacher reading the picture book "King and King," about a gay royal wedding.

This is emotional stuff for many parents. But the dry reality of California education law tells a different story. Under SB 71, which passed in 2003, the Legislature set out the framework for comprehensive sex education, which includes the brief reference to marriage from which these dire Proposition 8 warnings are drawn: "Instruction and materials shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships." Schools aren't required to teach comprehensive sex education, but if they do, this is one of many rules they must follow. The law also gives schools the option of discussing gender, sexual orientation and family life, though that's not required as part of the more comprehensive program.

Most important, the law contains paragraph after paragraph guaranteeing parents the right to review the material being taught and to have their children excused from all or any part of it.

It would be naive to say that no California teacher will ever mention homosexuality, or that SB 71 prevents all teachers, elementary or otherwise, from reading "King and King" or similar books to their students, or telling them about the history -- and existence -- of gay marriage. Schools across the nation have done such things for years, with or without legal recognition of gay marriage.

Proposition 8 would change none of that. The measure would do one thing: use the state Constitution as the device to take away an existing, fundamental right from a particular group of people, so that a loving adult in that group could not marry the person of his or her choice. Teachers will choose books to read and will impart information about the world to their students. That's true now; it was true before the California Supreme Court ruling in May that recognized the right to same-sex marriage; and it will be true whether Proposition 8 passes or, as it deserves to do, fails.

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