PoliGraph: Marriage amendment video claim misleading

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On Election Day, Minnesotans will decide whether to change the state’s constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Minnesota for Marriage is the leading organization in the state rallying support for the amendment. Regularly, it posts brief videos on its website that highlight aspects of the marriage amendment debate.

The most recent video looked at how legalizing same-sex marriage could affect Minnesota’s children. In the video, host Kalley Yanta said:

“When same sex marriage was imposed by the courts in Massachusetts, for example, second-graders were taught in public schools that boys could marry other boys.”

Some Massachusetts schools are teaching same-sex marriage as part of their diversity curriculum, but there’s little evidence that the practice is widespread. And the defeat of the Minnesota constitutional amendment would not in and of itself legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

The Evidence

Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. And while the law didn’t change rules about what should be taught in schools, Massachusetts schools have been the subject of multiple ads, including this spot that aired in California when voters there were deciding in 2008 whether to legalize same-sex marriage.

It is possible similar ads will be broadcast on Minnesota’s airwaves this fall.

To support Minnesota for Marriage’s statement, spokesman Chuck Darrell pointed to a 2006 federal lawsuit brought by two couples against employees of the Lexington, Mass., school district. The parents contended teachers provided or read books to their children that featured same-sex couples, and that such teachings went against their religion.

The suit was dismissed because parents don’t have a constitutional right to dictate what is taught in a public school, said the judge’s decision. The plaintiffs appealed the decision in the U.S. Appeals Court of Massachusetts, but lost.

Teaching same-sex marriage is allowed in Massachusetts schools.

Since 1993, Massachusetts law has required the Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education to develop curriculum standards meant to foster respect for gender, cultural, and racial diversity.

As a result, the state’s education department has developed curriculum framework that, in part, encourages schools to teach students through fifth grade about different types of families and the concepts of prejudice and discrimination. And 5th grade students, for instance, should be able to define sexual orientation using the proper terminology, according to the framework.

But education department spokesman Jonathan Considine stresses that the state does not dictate specific lessons or books taught in Massachusetts’ schools, nor is there a statewide mandate that schools teach about either same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.

Rather, curriculum decisions are made by the districts and the individual schools, and some schools have incorporated same-sex marriage into their lessons, Considine said.

The Lexington Public School District is an example. District superintendent Paul Ash said that prior to the 2006 lawsuit, books that featured same-sex couples were read in school because the district was committed to creating an inclusive environment for all children.

“It wasn’t just about gays,” Ash said. “It was ethnic diversity, racial diversity. The core value of this district is that we want our curriculum to reflect the way our community looks.”

Today, the district has an entire curriculum around diversity that includes talking about same-sex marriage. But Ash said Lexington, a liberal town in a relatively liberal state, is in the minority. He points out that no other legal complaints have been filed since 2006.

“It’s a non-issue,” Ash said.

Kris Mineau, the president Massachusetts Family Institute, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, says that same-sex marriage is being taught widely in Massachusetts’ public schools.

“All the school libraries have materials promoting same-sex marriage and homosexuality, and all the teachers are given full latitude based on their personal orientations to discuss it with their students,” Mineau said.

Mineau couldn’t say exactly how many schools are teaching same-sex marriage, but sent a list of 14 examples. However, the list doesn’t demonstrate a regular, formal same-sex marriage curriculum; four examples refer to the 2006 court case and four are based on anecdotal evidence.

Finally, there’s a fundamental difference between same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and the amendment Minnesota voters are considering: if the Minnesota marriage amendment is defeated, same-sex marriage will still be illegal in the state. And approving or defeating the amendment has no bearing on what’s taught in Minnesota schools.

The Verdict

It’s true that some Massachusetts schools are teaching kids about same-sex marriage in lessons about diversity. The Lexington School District is among them, though it did not start those lessons because the decision to legalize same-sex marriage required it as Minnesota for Marriage’s statement implies.

But there’s no evidence that same-sex marriage is taught throughout Massachusetts, and the state doesn’t require such curriculum.

Further, though Minnesota for Marriage points out that same-sex marriage could be taught in schools if the practice is legalized, that’s not what Minnesota is debating right now. Voters are choosing to define marriage in the state’s constitution. If the amendment is defeated, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage – or what’s taught in schools – will not automatically change.

Minnesota for Marriage’s claim is misleading.

SOURCES

Minnesota for Marriage, Marriage Minute: “What kind of issues would children face if marriage is redefined?” July 17th, 2012

Baptist Press, Massachusetts 2nd-grade teacher reads class ‘gay marriage’ book; administrator backs her, by Michael Frost, April 20, 2006

MassResistance, Children’s book portraying homosexual romance and marriage — read to second-grade class by teacher, accessed July 20, 2012

MassResistance, PARENTS OUTRAGED: Second-grade teacher (in David Parker’s school!) reads “modern fairy tale” to class on homosexual romance and marriage!, accessed July 20, 2012

David Parker et al. vs. William Hurley et al., Memorandum and Order, , February 23, 2007

David Parker et al. vs. William Hurley et al. Appeal from the United States District Court of the District of Massachusetts, January 31, 2008

List of same-sex marriage teaching examples in Massachusetts provided by the Massachusetts Family Institute, July 19, 2012

Chuck Darrell, spokesman, Minnesota for Marriage, July 19, 2012

Kris Mineau, president Massachusetts Family Institute, July 19, 2012

Laura Barrett, spokeswoman, Massachusetts Teachers Association, July 19, 2012

Dr. Paul Ash, superintendent, Lexington Public Schools, July 20, 2012

Jonathan Considine, spokesman, Massachusetts Department of Education, July 19, 2012

  • Jesse B

    Gasp!

    How dare schools teach children about the laws of their states and about the reality of the social situation they’re in?!

  • Beth-Ann

    Gasp!

    How dare schools be respectful of ALL the children and families in the school?

  • Erick C

    Gasp!

    The “Marriage Minute” lasts 147 seconds!

    How dare Minnesota For Marriage, the group that accuses gays of trying to redefine marriage, try to redefine a MINUTE!!