Education head seeks analysis of gay marriage law effects on schools

Posted Oct. 07, 2009, at 9:53 p.m.

State education commissioner Susan Gendron is asking the Attorney General’s Office to help settle whether Maine’s gay marriage law will affect curriculum in public schools.

As part of its campaign in support of the Question 1 ballot initiative, Stand for Marriage Maine has aired several television ads claiming that unless the law is repealed, same-sex marriage could be taught in schools.

Gendron and Maine education officials have said that the law will have no impact on curriculum decisions. While Stand for Marriage Maine has defended the ads as raising legitimate questions, the campaign to defend Maine’s same-sex marriage law has accused the opposition of employing distortion and scare tactics to sway public opinion.

But in response to continuing questions from the media and the public, Gendron sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Mills on Wednesday asking for an analysis of the law and any legal ramifications of a Massachusetts court decision referenced in the ads.

“The commissioner felt it would be helpful to put this issue to rest,” education department spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Wednesday night.

The law is currently suspended pending the outcome of the Nov. 3 vote.

In the two most recent Stand for Marriage Maine ads, a private school teacher and a public school counselor raise the issue of gay marriage being taught in schools. One ad also features clips of a Massachusetts couple that filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent their son from being exposed to lessons on same-sex marriage.

The No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign has fired back with ads, also featuring teachers, accusing the opposition of “deceiving families about what is taught in Maine classrooms.”

In her letter to Mills, Gendron said her department has said several times “that, in our view, curriculum decisions would not be impacted in any way based on the outcome of the referendum question.” However, questions have persisted and are now being directed to superintendents, Gendron wrote.

“Since the questions raise issues of the legal ramifications of a Massachusetts court decision, it would be of great assistance to the department if you would provide us with your legal analysis and conclusions regarding this issue,” the letter reads. “I feel that it is important that the department be able to provide legally correct guidance to the field and to the public on this issue.”

Connerty-Marin said Wednesday evening that the word “marriage” does not appear in the education standards or regulations and that specific curriculum decisions are largely a local issue. The state has offered diversity education for years, he said.

Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on 1, welcomed the request and applauded Gendron “for taking this to the next level.” Connolly repeated the No on 1 camp’s assertion that Question 1 is about marriage equality and has nothing to do with education.

Stand for Marriage Maine executive committee member Bob Emrich said in a statement that Mills testified in support of the same-sex marriage bill in the Legislature. He also pointed out that Gendron is a political appointee chosen by Gov. John Baldacci, who signed the gay marriage bill.

“Commissioner Gendron asking Attorney General Mills for an unbiased opinion on Question 1 smacks of a political stunt,” Emrich said. “Hopefully, Attorney General Mills will not allow her department to be misused in such a manner.”

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