TV & Radio
Gay fairy tale sparks civil rights debate
By Jason Szep
Mon Apr 24, 8:29 PM ET
The crown prince rejects a bevy of beautiful princesses, rebuffing each suitor until falling in love with a prince. The two marry, sealing the union with a kiss, and live happily ever after.
That fairy tale about gay marriage has sparked a civil rights debate in Massachusetts, the only U.S. state where gays and lesbians can legally wed, after a teacher read the story to a classroom of seven year olds without warning parents first.
A parents' rights group said on Monday it may sue the public school in the affluent suburb of Lexington, about 12 miles west of Boston, where a teacher used the book "King & King" in a lesson about different types of weddings.
"It's just so heinous and objectionable that they would do this," said Brian Camenker, president of the Parents Rights Coalition, a conservative Massachusetts-based advocacy group.
Camenker said he believes the school, Joseph Estabrook Elementary, broke a 1996 Massachusetts law requiring schools to notify parents of sex-education lessons. "There is no question in my mind that the law is being abused here," he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if in the next couple of weeks there was some kind of (legal) action taken," he said.
Lexington Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash said the school was under no legal obligation to inform parents the book would be read to the classroom of about 20 children.
"This district is committed to teaching children about the world they live in. Seven-year-olds see gay people. They see them in the schools. They see them with their kids," he said.
"I see this as a civil rights issue. People who are gay have a right to be treated equally," he said.
"If it were North Carolina, this would be a whole different story. But the law in Massachusetts is that gay marriage is legal. We have lots of gay families in Lexington."
The issue erupted in Lexington when parent Robin Wirthlin complained to the school's principle after her 7-year-old son told her about the reading last month. She then turned to the Parents Rights Coalition, which released a statement on the issue to Boston media last week.
Since then, Ash has been swamped by e-mails on the issue from across the country, some in support but many written in anger including one from a North Carolina man who threatened "to beat his head into the ground," he said.
"I handed that one to the police," said Ash.
The issue underscores a growing cultural divide over the issue of gay rights at a time when legal challenges seeking permission for gays and lesbians to marry are pending in 10 states. Two U.S. states have legalized civil unions.
It also comes as California considers introducing school textbooks highlighting the role of gays in its history.
Some legal scholars said the depth of emotion on the issue nationwide means educators should include parents in the debate on exactly when to start educating children on homosexuality.
"There is a difference between what is required and what is the right thing to do," said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, which produces guidelines for schools and teachers on issues such as same-sex marriage.
"Some people believe that we are moving toward a kind of normalization of homosexuality as part of the fabric of our life. Others believe we are going in the other direction. Because we are now in a fork in the road where we are debating this, public schools are not the place to settle it," he said.
"King & King" was ranked eighth among the top 10 books people wanted removed from libraries in 2004, according to the American Library Association. Its Berkeley, California publisher, Tricycle Press, said complaints over the 32-page book first surfaced in 2004 in North Carolina.
An Oklahoma legislator last year cited the book as reason to impose new restrictions on library collections.
Written by two Dutch women, the book has sold about 15,000 copies in the United States since it was translated and published in 2002. A sequel, "King, King and Family," about a royal same-sex family written by the same authors, was published two years later.
"We believe all children deserve to see themselves in books and these books were published for the children in gay families and for their friends" said Tricycle publisher, Nicole Geiger.