Same-Sex Marriage and Our Students
The Board of Education decided to interview candidates for an unexpected opening on the board. The person appointed eventually would have to run for the seat, but since he or she would have the advantage of being an incumbent, the board wanted to be careful to make a good decision.
Among the applicants was a woman known for her strong personality and opinions. Her interview with the board went quite well, however, and she answered all the prepared questions satisfactorily. At the end of the interview, the board president asked her if she had anything else she would like to say to the board. I’m paraphrasing here, but she said something like this: “I want to be a board member so I can make sure we don’t have any of that rainbow stuff here.” Rainbow? “That gay and lesbian stuff, “ she explained. “I don’t want my kids exposed to that.”
I used to fantasize that as soon as a candidate revealed a fatal flaw in an interview, I could press a button underneath my desk and the candidate would rocket into space. It was cartoonish, of course, and immature, but it allowed me to have a pleasant expression on my face until the interview was over. I wondered how the board would react to her closing statement.
I escorted her out and closed the door. There was a moment of silence, and then the board president said, “Absolutely not.” The others nodded their agreement. No need to rocket anyone into space.
Currently the Supreme Court is debating Hollingsworth V. Perry to decide whether a California law prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the equal-protection clause of the Constitution. In a second case, the court will decide whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) is constitutional. DOMA defines marriage (and consequently the benefits thereof) as a “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
Critics say that if same-sex marriage is constitutional, it will have great effects on our public schools, requiring schools to teach children that same-sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage. In fact, the decision of the court will require nothing of the sort. Of course, anyone who has spent time working in the public schools knows that we have always had gay students, gay parents (married or not), gay teachers, and gay administrators. Likewise, we have always had (and will probably continue to have) parents who don’t want any “rainbow stuff” in their schools and school people who are biased. None of this is anything new.
Schools are required, however, to teach tolerance for diversity, and, as the NEA points out, respect for all students, including those who are gay and lesbian. Census Bureau data reveals that nearly 1.3 million Americans are part of a same-sex couple. About one-fifth of them are raising children under 18 – some 220,000 children. These families are already part of our schools, and will continue to be. So we need to be particularly vigilant that all of our kids feel safe in school, and all of our families feel welcome – irrespective of the court’s decision and any school person’s individual issue with gay or lesbian families. “That rainbow stuff” is part of our charge to respect diversity, lead by example, and assure all kids an educational experience free from harassment or bullying for any reason. That’s our responsibility as school people.