Ore. Schools in Eye of Storm Over Anti-Gay Measure

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Oregon voters next month will pass judgment on a controversial ballot measure that would require public schools and other governmental entities to actively discourage homosexuality.

Backed by a coalition of conservative and evangelical-Christian groups, the proposal would amend the state constitution to require public schools and universities to "assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth that recognizes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism, and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse, and that these behaviors are to be discouraged and avoided.''

The Oregon amendment has drawn national attention as a barometer of public sentiment toward gay rights. By establishing that state and local governments have an affirmative duty to disparage homosexuality, its impact could go well beyond that of referendums on the ballot this fall in Colorado and Portland, Me., that would bar the passage of anti-discrimination legislation protecting homosexuals.

Although the proposal has trailed by a substantial margin in recent polls, observers do not discount its chances of victory.

School Impact Debated

Because of its broad language, there is considerable disagreement over what impact Measure 9 would have on schools. Backers say its effect would be relatively limited, while some critics warn of wholesale purges of library books and teachers.

Lon Mabon, the chairman of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, the group that is spearheading the campaign for the proposal, said the amendment would not force schools to develop curricula opposing homosexuality. Rather, he said, it would mandate that if the topic of homosexuality came up in a discussion, a teacher would have to tell students that it is wrong.

"We would push for a policy with the department of higher education and the public schools similar to that of a campaign against drug use,'' Mr. Mabon said. "We know some people participate in these behaviors, but we make a judgment that their behaviors are wrong, and we discourage our kids from participating in them.''

Gay teachers, or other state employees who work with children, who "make their homosexuality publicly known'' would not be fired, according to Frank Carpenter, a spokesman for the Oregon Association of Evangelicals. They would be reassigned to other jobs, Mr. Carpenter said, but did not specify where they would be transferred.

'Chilling Effect' Seen

But opponents say the amendment would prohibit schools from making even a passing reference to homosexuality without condemning it.

"I read it to mean that every year ... schools would have to develop curriculum beginning in kindergarten to teach children that homosexuality is wrong,'' said Peggy Norman, the campaign manager for No On Nine, the group leading the effort to defeat the initiative.

"What that 'setting a standard for Oregon's youth' means is certainly going to be left open to interpretation, but I assume it means we're going to be promoting the O.C.A.'s version of family values,'' Ms. Norman charged.

Jane Howard, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Federation of Teachers, Education and Health Professionals, agreed. "It's very broad; the parameters are unclear,'' she said. "The implication is that its application is limitless.''

If the measure passes, some think it may be found unconstitutional. "I think the court would find it would have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression by a teacher and maybe even a student,'' said Craig Berkman, the chairman of the state Republican Party.

The measure "is rather vague,'' Mr. Berkman said, as to what constitutes speech promoting homosexual behavior or how students would be taught about it.

"At what point does this proactive education kick in, what's the criteria used to determine what age group discusses it?'' he asked. "Many of these people are vehemently opposed to sex education. So now in order to teach [children] that homosexuality is wrong, you have to be practical, you have to teach them what it is first.''

'Special Rights' Targeted

In addition to the O.C.A., which describes itself as a pro-family organization, the amendment is supported by a coalition of evangelical Christian churches and such national organizations as the Concerned Women of America, Eagle Forum, and the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.

In addition to the O.C.A., which describes itself as a pro-family organization, the amendment is supported by a coalition of evangelical Christian churches and such national organizations as the Concerned Women of America, Eagle Forum, and the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.

Mr. Mabon said the groups' goal is to prevent homosexuals from obtaining "special rights'' or protected minority status.

Opposing the measure is a coalition of some 200 organizations, including education groups, labor unions, business organizations, mainline Protestant churches, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland.

Also voicing their opposition to the measure have been Gov. Barbara Roberts, Superintendent of Public Instruction Norma S. Paulus, and the state's Congressional delegation.

Recent polls show public opinion in the state is running two to one against the measure, and most observers say it is unlikely to pass.

Even so, analysts are cautious in their predictions, recalling a 1988 campaign by the O.C.A. to overturn an executive order by Gov. Neil Goldschmidt barring discrimination against homosexuals. Although the measure trailed in the polls, it narrowly triumphed on Election Day.

This spring, the city of Springfield passed a referendum similar to Measure 9 with 55.4 percent of the vote.

Vol. 12, Issue 07, Page 15

Published in Print: October 21, 1992, as Ore. Schools in Eye of Storm Over Anti-Gay Measure
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