California Schools Are Pulled Into a Debate on Same-Sex Marriage

Teachers union fights ads warning families their children would learn about gay marriage in schools.

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Supporters of Proposition 8, which would outlaw same-sex marriage throughout California, rally in Los Angeles.

California schools are ground zero for a debate over a controversial ballot initiative that would amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In recent weeks, conservative and religious groups have blanketed the state with television ads urging families to vote in favor of the initiative, warning that if the measure is defeated, children would be taught about gay marriage in schools. Opponents of the measure have called the group's ad campaign misleading.

One of the most-discussed ads features a girl coming home from school and showing her mother a picture book about a prince who married another prince and the girl declaring that she wants to marry a princess. And earlier this month, when a group of San Francisco first graders made a trip to City Hall to witness a lesbian couple's wedding ceremony (with permission from their parents), the measure's supporters seized on the story.

The state's education code does not require schools to offer comprehensive sex education if parents opt to take their children out of the instruction. Among the most vocal opponents of the measure has been the state's powerful teachers union, which has poured its own money into ads that try to clarify the issue and ask families to vote no on the proposal to ban same-sex marriages. Recent polls show the public is about evenly split on the measure.

In other education news on the eve of Election Day:

In Florida, home of the 2000 election fiasco, the Broward County School District, one of the nation's largest public school systems, is busing voting-age eligible high school students to the polls on November 4, the Associated Press reports. Schools are giving eligible students the time off, and some teachers are even offering students extra credit. District officials describe the exercise as the ultimate civics lesson.

But a similar program in Indiana during the primaries was criticized as a get-out-the-vote effort by Obama supporters. Already, several hundred students in Florida took advantage of the free bus rides to the polls during the early voting period. It's not clear how many of the more than 70,000 students in the district's 32 high schools will turn out or how they will influence the results. Overall, only a handful of school districts in the country plan to provide transportation for voting-age students.

In New York City, a similar effort to increase turnout among young people is underway for Election Day. Hundreds of teenagers are expected to attend a rally on the steps of City Hall to encourage young people to vote. Flanked by a local politician, they will also demand that the voting age be lowered to 16. Rally organizers, mainly the National Youth Rights Association, argue that lowering the voting age would create good voting habits among young people. It's a valid argument, but they should know that folks will be watching to see how many of them simply show up for the rally.

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