The California Teachers Association has ignited a fierce debate among its members by donating $1 million to oppose a ballot initiative that would end same-sex marriage in the state.
The donation on Oct. 14 was one of four made by the union’s political action committee in opposition to the Nov. 4 ballot measure, known as Proposition 8. The 340,000-member union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, had donated $250,000 on July 30. On Oct. 16, the union made two donations, of $12,096 and $50,000, to fight the measure.
“Our phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Finn Laursen, the executive director of the Christian Education Association International, who said about half his Westlake, Ohio-based group’s 900 California members are also cta members.
“Many members of the cta are asking us to help them get out of the union in California,” he said, “so they can invest their money in an arena that does not violate their personal religious convictions.”
Proposition 8 would amend the California Constitution to say that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in the state. Supporters say the amendment is necessary to overturn a ruling by the Supreme Court of California earlier this year that the state constitution protects marriage as a basic civil right of all Californians, whether heterosexual or not.
The state council of the California Teachers Association, the union’s governing authority, voted overwhelmingly in June to oppose the ballot initiative because, officials say, it goes against the union’s stand on equal rights for all.
Union officials could not be reached for comment last week, but a video on the union’s Web site outlines its official position.
“It falls into fairness and equity issues,” Lynette Henley, a cta board member, says in the video. “We say everyone has full access to everything in America and everything in California, then why are we choosing to carve out a small minority to say that you can’t because of your sexual orientation?”
The cta argues on its Web site that the ballot initiative “mandates one set of rules for gay and lesbian couples and another set of rules for everyone else. That’s not fair. California laws should treat everyone equally.”
The proposal has become the focus of intense debate in California, including television advertisements by supporters of the ban that say schools will teach students about same-sex marriage if the initiative fails. One ad features a couple talking about how their 2nd grader learned about the topic at school in Massachusetts, which has legalized same-sex marriage.
Opponents of same-sex marriage in Florida have raised similar fears about the possibility that schools would teach about the topic in that state, which has a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot that would forbid recognition of any marriage except one between a man and a woman.
Last week, several current or former education officials in California spoke out against the TV ads that imply a link between classroom instruction and legal sanction for same-sex marriage.
“Our public schools are not required to teach about marriage. And, in fact, curriculum involving health issues is chosen by local school governing boards,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, an elected official.
Joining Mr. O’Connell in opposing the ballot initiative were Ted Mitchell, the president of the state board of education; former state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin; and Reed Hastings, a former president of the state board.
A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2008 edition of Education Week as Union Donations in California Same-Sex-Marriage Debate Criticized