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Controversy Rages Over Question One's Impact on School Curricula
10/19/2009   Reported By: Josie Huang

It's two weeks to go before Mainers vote on Question 1 and decide whether to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law. The Yes on 1 camp says that unless the law is overturned, same-sex relationships will be taught to children in schools, just as it is in Massachusetts, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2004.

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Supporters of the law say the issue is about extending equal rights to loving couples, above all else. But they decided to veer off message after the repeal campaign started airing another television ad focusing on schools on Friday.

NARRATING TEACHER: "Here's are some how Massachusetts schools teach about gay marriage.
NPR: Already some gay advocates are working on a gay-friendly curriculum for kindergarten and up
MASSACHUSETTS TEACHER: I know that, ok, this is legal now. If someone wants to challenge me, I say, 'Oh give me a break.'"

The ad excerpts a 2004 National Public Radio story on how Massachusetts teachers were addressing same-sex relationships in the classroom.

"Clearly they're desperate and so their ads have gotten increasingly desperate," says Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree. As speaker, Pingree pushed for the Legislature's passage of the law earlier this year. Speaking at the campaign headquarters of No on 1 in Portland, Pingree says she found the ad particularly galling because state Attorney General Janet Mills had on Friday issued an opinion saying that the law would not change school curricula in Maine.

"I think that their intention is to scare parents into thinking that something will be taught in schools that won't be taught in schools. The Maine Legislature never discussed school curriculum. The attorney general has been very clear that Maine law says that marriage is not part of curriculum. So anything about marriage will not be part of curriculum after this is passed," Pingree says.

"Let's make this simple, all right?" says former Maine Attorney General Jim Tierney, who accompanied Pingree. Tierney now directs The National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School.

"Whether this referendum passes or doesn't pass, the question of whether same-sex marriages will be discussed in schools will be a matter decided by the local school board and people can disagree on that, but let's not get distracted from the vote that people have to make in a couple weeks."

Marc Mutty, a spokesman for the Yes on 1/Stand for Marriage Maine campaign, says the other side is missing the point. "We understand that schools will not be mandated to provide one curriculum or another, but neither will they be discouraged or will they be unable to provide the kind of curriculum they could so choose that well could include teaching about same-sex marriage."

Mutty contends that if same-sex marriage is upheld, then it makes sense that teacher would bring up same-sex relationships in the context of a discussion on marriage - which he says is not OK with some parents. "We have never said that schools will be mandated -- or actually perhaps we did in one ad, or certainly led people to believe that inadvertently,"

Mutty does not specify which ad. But one of the first featured a Boston College professor who said that gay marriage will be taught in schools "whether parents like it or not." Mutty says that in 30-second TV spots, verbal shortcuts can lead to misinterpretation.

Mutty says campaign ads will continue to focus on schools, but some new ones will branch out from that issue, though he declined to say what tack they would be taking.


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