AG rebuts gay marriage opponents

Posted Oct. 15, 2009, at 5:43 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s gay marriage law, if upheld by voters this November, would have no impact on educational curriculum in the state’s public schools, the Attorney General’s Office said Thursday.

For weeks now, Mainers have been bombarded with advertisements from both campaigns in the referendum about whether Maine’s law allowing same-sex couples to wed could lead to gay marriage being taught in the public schools. Question 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot asks voters if they prefer to reject the law, thereby restricting marriage rights to unions of one man and one woman.

State education officials have argued that the enabling legislation, LD 1020, makes no mention of education and that legalizing gay marriage will not affect classroom instruction.

On Thursday, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills concurred.

“Whatever the benefits and burdens of the civil institution of marriage, the state’s definition of marriage has no bearing on the curricula in our public schools, either under the current law or under LD 1020,” Mills wrote to Education Commissioner Susan Gendron, who had requested a legal analysis by the Attorney General’s Office.

Local school boards make curriculum decisions based on the general guidelines established in Maine Learning Results, Mills wrote. Additionally, state law does not dictate that schools use specific texts or materials, reads the letter.

“I have scoured Maine’s laws relating to the education of its children for any references to marriage in the public school curricula. I have found none,” Mills wrote.

Stand for Marriage Maine, the group leading the effort to prevent Maine’s gay marriage law from taking effect, has made the education question a major part of its campaign in support of Question 1.

The group has aired several television ads raising the education question. One ad features video clips of a Massachusetts couple that filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent their son from being exposed to lessons on same-sex marriage.

Mills office reviewed that case, Parker vs. Hurley, as part of the analysis. In the case, the court determined that there is no First Amendment right for parents to review books — regardless of subject — before they are used in schools. Instead, the court stressed that upset parents had recourse through the local school board.

“What is taught in private or religious schools, of course, may include the principles and religious tenets of those organizations regarding family institutions and other subjects, and nothing in LD 1020 would change that prerogative of private or religious institutions to instill those beliefs in their children either at home or at their schools,” Mills wrote.

Another Stand for Marriage Maine ad cites the example of a children’s book used in California schools that references same-sex couples. But supporters of gay marriage, led by the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign, have countered that same-sex couples are only mentioned as one example of the diversity of family types in the book.

The No on 1 camp praised the letter.

“We certainly thank Commissioner Gendron and Attorney General Mills for taking steps to finally put to rest some of these distortions that have been dominating the campaign,” No on 1 spokesman Mark Sullivan said.

On Friday, Stand for Marriage Maine officials called Mills’ findings a “forgone conclusion.”

The campaign raised questions about Mills’ objectivity on the matter by noting that she testified in support of LD 1020 in front of the Legislature.

“Her legal opinion has not even a shred of pretense of independence or objectivity,” said Stand for Marriage Maine spokesman Marc Mutty. “The request for and her opinion itself is nothing more than the classic lawyer scheme of creating a straw man argument simply for the benefit of striking it down.”

Mills’ letter came one day after the release of a poll showing that more than 60 percent of the 401 likely voters surveyed did not believe gay marriage would be taught in public schools if the law is allowed to take effect.

The same poll, by Pan Atlantic SMS Groups of Portland, showed that 51.8 of respondents either supported or were leaning in favor of supporting the gay marriage law, compared with 40.9 percent opposed. Another poll, released last month, showed opponents of gay marriage with a 2 percentage point lead.

Click here for the complete text of the poll.

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