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Marriage ad unfairly links amendment to school curriculum issue

The vote holds no implications for schools’ decisions regarding curriculum, and parents’ rights will still be subject to the same decades of well-established law as before.

The Minnesota for Marriage spot features Massachusetts couple David and Tonia Parker.

On Thursday, Minnesota for Marriage, the group campaigning in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, began airing a TV ad warning, “If gay marriage happens here, schools could teach that boys could marry boys.”

The 30-second spot features Massachusetts couple David and Tonia Parker. “After Massachusetts redefined marriage, local schools taught it to children in second grade, including the school our son attended,” David Parker warns.

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Opposite the shot of the Parkers appears the image of a picture book, “King & King,” which depicts a prince who marries another prince.

“If marriage is redefined in Minnesota, same-sex marriage could be taught in local schools, just as it was in Massachusetts,” adds Tonia Parker. “Don’t make the same mistake and think that gay marriage won’t affect you.”

With the exception of the name of the states and the title of the ballot question, the ad is identical to one that began airing at the same time in Maryland. The script is also the same for one that hit the airwaves in Maine, although the images differ slightly.

“If history is a guide, we can expect gay ‘marriage’ activists to push this teaching throughout Minnesota if gay ‘marriage’ is legalized,” Minnesota for Marriage Chairman John Helmberger said in a statement accompanying the ad’s release. “This will cause problems with the majority of Minnesotans who firmly believe that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.

“It puts parents and pastors in a difficult situation when they teach the truth of marriage at home and in church, but then their kids are taught something entirely different at school. This undermines parental rights and causes confusion for children. Also, schools are taking away from parents the right to determine the time and manner in which the highly contentious issue of gay ‘marriage’ is introduced to their children.”

Thursday MinnPost carried a story fact-checking another of the group’s ads, which repeats dubious claims being raised in the three other states where marriage-related referenda appear on this year’s ballot. Minnesota for Marriage’s fourth ad, a direct descendant of Prop 8’s notorious “princess ad,” showcased the same book and alluded to the Parkers’ case.

“King & King” and the assertion that same-sex marriage will be “taught” to schoolchildren have appeared in ad after ad in the 31 states where voters have decided gay marriage questions. It is the most complicated of the claims to unravel and its emotional implication — that parents will be helpless to stop their children’s indoctrination into homosexuality — powerful and frightening.

Like Minnesota students, children in Massachusetts have long been exposed in schools to age-appropriate materials depicting different kinds of families, often as social studies instruction and sometimes as anti-bullying or school climate curriculum.  Typically picture books, the materials depict single parents, kids in foster care, interracial families, children being raised by grandparents, and kids with two mothers or two fathers.

Same-sex marriage is illegal in Minnesota right now, and will remain illegal even if the proposed constitutional amendment does not pass. The vote holds no implications for schools’ decisions regarding curriculum, and parents’ rights concerning the education of their children will still be subject to the same decades of well-established law as before.

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Indeed, the Parkers’ case was not even caused by the legalization of same-sex marriage, according to the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. At issue in Parker v. Hurley were two Massachusetts laws, one requiring elementary school pupils to be able to describe different kinds of families and another mandating parents be notified when children are to be given instruction in human sexuality and allowed to pull their kids out of the lesson. Both predated the legalization of gay marriage by a decade.

According to the court’s findings, the Parkers objected when their son Jacob brought home a diversity book bag: “This included a picture book, ‘Who’s in a Family?’ which depicted different families, including single-parent families, an extended family, interracial families, animal families, a family without children, and — to the concern of the Parkers — a family with two dads and a family with two moms. The book concludes by answering the question, ‘Who’s in a family? The people who love you the most!’ The book says nothing about marriage.”

The principal at their son’s school disagreed with the Parkers’ subsequent request that their son not be exposed to any material that featured same-sex unions. District administrators agreed. After one meeting, David Parker was arrested after refusing to leave the school until his demands were met.

The Parkers complained again the following year when Jacob’s classroom contained both “Who’s in a Family?” and a book about a girl who is initially embarrassed that she has two mothers. A few months later, the parents of a second-grader at the same school complained that their son’s teacher read “King & King.”

“This picture book tells the story of a prince, ordered by his mother to get married, who first rejects several princesses only to fall in love with another prince,” the court explained. “A wedding scene between the two princes is depicted. The last page of the book shows the two princes kissing, but with a red heart superimposed over their mouths.”

The two families sued, alleging “that the public schools are systematically indoctrinating [their] young children contrary to the parents’ religious beliefs and that the defendants held ‘a specific intention to denigrate the [families’] sincere and deeply-held faith.’”

The court disagreed, noting that a long-established body of law says parents can choose whether to send their children to public schools, but can’t dictate what or how they are taught. “While we accept as true plaintiffs’ assertion that their sincerely held religious beliefs were deeply offended, we find that they have not described a constitutional burden on their rights, or on those of their children,” the court ruled.