Robb and Robin Wirthlin say there's no disputing what happened to their son and their family after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. "Our son came home and told us the school taught him that boys can marry other boys. He's in second grade. We tried to stop public schools from teaching children about gay marriage but the court said we had no right to object or pull him out of class," the two say in the ad.
The book in question is a children's fairy tale titled "King and King" about a prince who falls in love with another prince. In 2004 it made the American Library Association's list of ten most-challenged books. The Wirthlins and another couple, the Parkers, took their challenge all the way to a federal district court.
In Parker versus Hurley, a federal judge held that parents have a fundamental right to raise their children, but that the Constitution does not allow them to dictate what their children will be taught. The decision was affirmed on appeal to the First Circuit. The judge found that the parents could choose instead to homeschool their children, work to elect a local school board in Lexington, Mass, to implement a different curriculum or send their children to a private school where their religious views might be more in line with lessons on diversity or same-sex marriage.
"It's been a sad thing that we've had to deal with," says Robb Wirthlin, in a telephone news conference with reporters. He says it was evident in meetings with their son's teacher and principal that their values and diversity were not going to be tolerated.
The Withrlins are Mormon. Robb Wirthlin's grandfather Joseph was an apostle in the Mormon church. Wirthlin is also related to GOP pollster Dick Wirthlin, who was active in California's anit-gay marriage campaign.
"We feel it's important that people see what the real-life ramifications of a change in law can have in other aspects of society that ostensibly originally had nothing to do with that first law that was changed," he says.
Also featured in Yes On One's latest ad is high school English teacher Charla Bansley of Ellsworth. "Vote Yes on Question 1 to prevent homosexual marriage from being taught in Maine schools," she implores in the ad.
Bansley is the state director of Concerned Women for America, a group that promotes biblical values. Bansley herself has opposed diversity training and tolerance classes in Maine schools. During the news conference Bansley acknowledged that Maine's same-sex marriage law does not specifically include requirements for same-sex marriage and family issues to be taught in public schools. But she thinks that could easily happen in Maine if the law is upheld.
Bansley declined to say where she teaches. "I would really like to keep my students out of this. I just left a freshman class and I would really like them not to get hounded by all of this."
In fact, Bansley does not teach at a public school, but at Calvary Chapel Christian School in Orrington, outside of Bangor. As a private school, Calvary would not be bound by anything adopted by the local school district.
But Professor David Cluchy of the University of Maine School of Law says local school boards are exactly the place where Maine parents would decide whether or not they wanted diversity and marriage issues taught in the public schools.
"There's nothing in Maine law that mandates that a school district engage in some kind of educational program around marriage," Cluchy says. "So to the extent that these decisions are made, they're going to be made by local school boards, by principals, by teachers, and parents will have the right to weigh in."
In addition, David Connerty-Marin of the Maine Department of Education points out that nothing currently prevents a Maine teacher from reading the "King and King" or any other book to a class. "And that would be up to them, unless they were told not to by their school district," he says.
Connerty-Marin was unable to say how many schools use the book or teach about same-sex marriage currently. But he says he's not aware of any conflicts about it in Maine.