Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who's in a Family?

In an ongoing legal dispute, a Lexington, MA, elementary school has become the focus of a battle waged by two families – and their conservative backers – against the notion of teaching about family diversity in the school.

The school included the books Who's in a Family and King and King in its curriculum, which teaches students about many different kinds of families. Both books present non-judgmental depictions of same-sex couples and their families.

The parents of two students - David and Tonia Parker and Robert and Robin Wirthlin - filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the school violated their constitutional rights by exposing their children to this information. They assert that their religion considers homosexuality immoral, and that by including materials depicting same-sex families, the school violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution to control the upbringing of their children and to the free exercise of their religion.

The suit was initially dismissed in U.S District Court by Judge Mark L. Wolf, who said in his decision: “under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy. Diversity is a hallmark of our nation. It is increasingly evident that our diversity includes differences in sexual orientation."

Judge Wolf went on to say: "The constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children and that teachings which contradict a parent’s religious beliefs do not violate their First Amendment right to exercise their religion.”

The dispute continues, however, as the Parkers and Wirthlin's have appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

GLAD views this suit as an attempt to intimidate schools away from an inclusive curriculum. Public schools should feel confident about teaching this material. The most recent census data demonstrates that lesbian and gay families live in virtually every U.S. county. To the extent that a public school includes a curriculum about families and teaches about what makes a family, that curriculum ought to reflect the demographic reality that same-sex families exist.

Students learning about different kinds of families have a right to learn that a family can have two moms or two dads and still be a loving family.