November 1, 2012

TRUTH TEST: Schools would teach gay marriage? No

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Opponents of same-sex marriage are back with an ad pushing claims similar to some from their successful 2009 Maine campaign, saying children will learn about it in schools if Question 1 passes.

While they aren’t accurate, the claims are powerful and time-tested. That’s why variations of this Maine ad are running now in Minnesota, Maryland and Washington, the only other states where same-sex marriage is to be decided on come Election Day.

The ad, featuring Massachusetts parents David and Tonia Parker, who sued their son’s school over the use of a book having to do with gay marriage and relationships, has a singular goal: to persuade Mainers that schools will teach gay marriage to children.

However, there’s no evidence that it’s going to happen.

“After Massachusetts redefined marriage, local schools taught it to children in second grade, including the school our son attended.”

No, they didn’t and they don’t. In one school at one time, one book was read that mentioned a married, same-sex couple. That’s all Protect Marriage Maine cited for this claim, which we’re calling false on its face.

Politifact
checked a version of this claim in Rhode Island in 2011, finding the statement false. In that piece, the National Organization for Marriage laid out one school where a book, “King and King,” a fairy tale-type story about a prince marrying another prince, read aloud in a class.

Two sets of parents objected, including the Parkers, though their child was not in the class where that book was read; the other family’s child was. The families ended up suing the school district together. The Parkers objected more specifically to other books used which had same-sex characters but didn’t mention marriage, according to a court decision.


By the end of that lawsuit, a federal appeals court found “no evidence of systemic indoctrination” at the school. Same-sex marriage wasn’t “taught” there. It was mentioned.

Since 1999, Massachusetts has had a state-guided health curricula framework that says by fifth grade, students must be able to define sexual orientation using words such as “gay” or “lesbian.” But as it pertains to that issue, that’s it. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004.

Verdict: One school is referenced here, so making the word plural is wrong. We’re also not giving the Parkers the latitude to say same-sex marriage was “taught.” A book’s reading doesn’t constitute teaching.

We rate this claim false.

“Courts ruled parents had no right to take their children out of class or to even be informed when this instruction was going to take place.”

“Instruction,” as we just outlined, is a flawed word here. Otherwise the statement is essentially true, but probably not how you’d think if you take this statement as it’s presented.

When the families sued, they said the school was violating a state statute which mandates that schools notify parents of upcoming curriculum that “primarily involves human sexual education or human sexuality issues.” If that conflict comes up, schools must also allow parents to exempt children from the teaching.

But the school didn’t apply that. Two federal courts ruled in their favor, saying they didn’t have to.

“Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them,” the federal appeals court said.

Verdict: Though “instruction” is a bad word here and the statement could mislead, the courts’ positions are characterized truthfully.

We rate this claim mostly true.

“If gay marriage happens here, schools could teach that boys can marry boys,” and “If Question 1 passes, same-sex marriage could be taught in local Maine schools, just as it was in Massachusetts.”

The backing simply isn’t here. This statement is false, and it’s a total scare tactic.

As we’ve noted in a previous Truth Test on a Protect Marriage Maine claim, anything “could” happen. If a statement is made in an ad, the word “could” shouldn’t be allowed to absolve a group of facts. We’re not giving them that word’s protection.

Protect Marriage Maine sent along a substantiation letter for the ad. In it, it defends the first claim by saying a “genderless version of marriage would be the only legally recognized definition of marriage in Maine,” so “whenever schools teach children about marriage, it would have to be this new version of marriage.”

Except there’s a problem: Schools in Maine don’t seem to teach marriage.

A 2009 opinion from Janet Mills, then Maine’s attorney general, said “the state’s definition of marriage has no bearing on the curricula in our public schools.” She found no use of the word “marriage” in the Maine Learning Results. The document mentions “respecting diversity” several times as a standard for development of interpersonal relationships.

“Regardless of what happens with Question 1, nothing changes, which is that local schools decide curriculum,” said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education, in a recent interview. “There’s nothing dictating anyone teach that or not.”

Let’s dig down to the local level: School district administrators at public school systems based in Brunswick, Lewiston, Oxford County, Portland and Augusta said nothing would change in their districts because they don’t teach marriage.

“We don’t have anything in our curriculum for heterosexual marriage,” said Richard Colpitts, superintendent of the Oxford Hills School District, “so I don’t see why we’d add something to the curriculum for homosexual marriage.”

Verdict: Protect Marriage Maine is throwing out a very powerful claim here, suggesting a kind of indoctrination in schools. So they need to be held to the wording. On state and local levels, we couldn’t find anywhere marriage is taught. Their documentation didn’t cite any instances. Given the lack of backing and the testimony from administrators, this claim contains no semblance of truth.

We rate this claim false.

We’ll give Protect Marriage Maine some credit for a mostly accurate, if a tad misleading, interpretation of courts’ opinions in the Parker case. But there’s no evidence Massachusetts teaches gay marriage in schools.

The reading of a book in a one classroom does not validate that. There’s no indication it’s likely to be taught in Maine schools, as state and local officials say Question 1 will change nothing in schools. The main arguments here are speculative fabrications designed to incite.

We rate this ad mostly false.

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