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In early January, just days after Lincoln Chafee replaced Donald Carcieri as governor of Rhode Island, advocates on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate ramped up their annual battle.
This year, the fight is taking on new intensity because, while Carcieri vowed for eight years to veto any bill to legalize gay marriage, Chafee supports it.
Recently, a leading opponent, the National Organization for Marriage, mailed brochures throughout the state that included the headline: "Imposing same-sex marriage has consequences." The brochure listed four "real consequences" of "redefining marriage to a genderless institution."
We chose to examine one of the claims: "Massachusetts’ public schools teach kids as young as kindergartners about gay marriage. Parents have no legal right to object!"
We contacted Christopher C. Plante, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of NOM, who told us that many schools in Massachusetts -- where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004 -- have books on the subject in their libraries.The "poster child," he said, is a picture book called "King & King," by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland.
The book tells the story of a queen who decided it was time for her son, the prince, to marry. He rejects every princess she offers. Finally the last candidate enters, and the prince feels "a stir in his heart." But it was for the princess’s brother, Prince Lee.
The two marry, and the book says "everyone lives happily ever after." On the last page, the two princes kiss, with a red heart covering their mouths.
The book "glorifies the idea that it’s perfectly OK to have same-sex marriage," said Plante. And he said the courts have ruled that the educational system has a duty to "normalize" same-sex marriage for grades as low as kindergarten.
Asked for examples of where the book is taught to kindergartners, Plante offered just one location, Lexington, Mass., where it became an issue in 2006.
That year, two couples -- David and Tonia Parker and Robert and Robin Wirthlin -- filed a federal lawsuit against Lexington school officials. The suit alleged that the Parkers’ son was given a book in kindergarten that depicts various forms of families, including one with parents of the same gender. And, the suit said, when the Wirthlins’ son was in first grade, he was read another book, "King & King," in school.
The parents said they have religious beliefs that homosexuality is immoral and that marriage is a holy union only of a man and a woman. They alleged school officials were attempting to indoctrinate their children with the belief that same sex marriages are moral.
In 2007, The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts dismissed the parents’ claims, finding that parents don’t have the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children, even if the teachings contradict the parents’ religious beliefs.
The parents appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit but lost. The appeals court wrote: "There is no allegation here of a formalized curriculum requiring students to read many books affirming gay marriage. The reading by a teacher of one book, or even three, and even if to a young and impressionable child, does not constitute "indoctrination."
Asked for any other examples of gay marriage being taught to kindergartners, Plante referred us to Kris Mineau, executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which describes itself as "dedicated to strengthening the family and affirming the Judeo-Christian values upon which it is based."
Mineau said he has been fighting same-sex marriage advocates for eight years and he is certain their message is being spread in schools throughout Massachusetts.
But he acknowledged he could not cite any examples other than Lexington. "I don’t have documentation of everything going on," Mineau said. "It’s very difficult to quantify."
Mineau also said the 2007 court rulings discouraged other parents from officially complaining about their children being exposed to school programs endorsing same-sex marriage.
We looked for other evidence that Massachusetts schools are teaching kindergartners about same-sex marriage.
We asked Jonathan Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, if the state mandated curriculum on same-sex marriage for kindergartners. The answer is no, he said. Massachusetts is a local control state, so each district decides on what topics to cover.
He said, "Massachusetts does not require that students in any grade be taught about gay marriage."
He said many schools have used books or promoted discussions to teach tolerance because some students have same-sex parents and there are teachers with same-sex spouses.
Considine referred us to The Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum, which includes a standard that by fifth grade, students should be able to define sexual orientation, such as heterosexual, gay and lesbian. It makes no recommendations about teaching different types of marriages to kindergartners.
Then we called the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which represents 107,000 educators.
Laura Bennett, a spokeswoman for the association, said she does not know whether anyone is discussing same-sex marriages with kindergartners in any of the state’s hundreds of school districts. But she is relatively certain no one else has publicly complained.
"I work on communications with teachers, and if there were other cases, I would have heard," she said. "There’s just that one case, over and over again."
"I haven’t heard boo about this," added Thomas Gosnell, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, which represents most of the other educators in the state. "I have not heard one of my members tell me they are talking about gay marriage in kindergarten. They are probably not talking about any kind of marriage in that grade.
"I don’t even hear anyone talking about gay marriage anymore," he added. "It’s just there."
Bottom line: The National Organization for Marriage mailing says that Massachusetts public schools teach kindergartners about gay marriage. The wording, including the present tense verb, gives the impression this is happening now, in many schools.
But the group’s only evidence is two incidents five years ago. It’s possible that somewhere, in one of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, other kindergartners have been taught about same-sex marriage. But NOM couldn’t cite any other examples. We find its statement False.
Interview with Christopher C. Plante, National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island, Feb. 7 and 9, 2011.
"King & King," by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland, 2000. Ten Speed Press, Berkley, Calif.
"Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework", Massachusetts Department of Education, accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
Interview with Laura Barrett, Massachusetts Teachers Association
"David Parker et al v. William Hurley et al", U.S. District Court, Massachusetts, accessed Feb. 8, 2011
Interview with Thomas Gosnell, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, Feb. 9, 2011
Parker et al vs. Hurley et al, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, accessed Feb. 9, 2011
Interview with Kris Mineau, Massachusetts Family Institute, Feb. 9, 2011
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