Monday, November 3, 2008

Supreme Education - Teaching Reality

Back in early October, there were two cases that the US Supreme Court ruled on that were significant to – and positive for – LGBT families. Odds are that you never heard anything about either of them.

blackboard graphic

Both of these were instances where the court declined to examine a ruling, i.e., they let stand a lower court ruling. By doing so, even though the Supreme Court did not issue a decision based on the merits of the cases, they tacitly affirmed the lower court's decisions.

Both of the initial cases came from Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, and both dealt with a family objecting to their kid being taught something about gay families.

One family objected to their child reading books in kindergarten and first-grade that included diverse families, including families with same-sex parents. Another family didn't want their son's second-grade teacher reading the class a book that celebrated a gay marriage.

Both families made their objections based on religious grounds.

Both families lost their cases locally, and each time the statewide rulings had a good quote from the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. Regarding the case on diverse families, the court said “There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations.”

In the gay marriage case, the court said, “Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas,”

The US Supreme Court declined to hear the cases without comment.

These were good legal decisions, albeit pretty obvious ones. The idea that someone can use their religion to opt out of their children being taught something is pretty crazy and unbelievably burdensome, as well as counter to the entire concept of education. (Just imagine the patchwork of teachings we’d have if teachers had to individualize their lesson-plans to censor out bits to each student. Madness!)

The simple truth is that our families (gay families) exist, and while opposition groups might want to deny our existence, they can't, or at least they can't in the school systems. And the natural anodyne to ignorance is education – the more people who learn about our families and how normal we are, the less they fear us as 'unknown' and the less they see us as 'other.'

These rulings set a good precedent, and it's always nice to hear something positive come out of our liberal/conservative split Supreme Court. Decisions like this circumscribe our rights and legal status, and every affirmation is a step forward for us. It’s also good for us, as gay families, to know about things like this, so that we can better advocate for ourselves and educate others on our issues.

-T. Shawn Long

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