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Controversial gay-rights bill OK'd
Measure would ban demeaning actions in public schools.
By Jim Sanders -- Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:01 am PDT Tuesday, August 22, 2006
California public schools could not demean gay, bisexual or transgender orientation under fiercely controversial legislation approved Monday by the Assembly.
The measure, Senate Bill 1437, has become a lightning rod in a bitter struggle between gay-rights advocates and critics who claim their moral values are under attack.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, hailed the bill as a way to make schools safer.
"We'll send a message here that California is above it, that each and every person in our schools is going to be treated with the love and respect they deserve," Núñez said.
But Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia, called the measure a dangerous form of "social experimentation."
"This is not about discrimination, it's about acceptance," he said. "You want us in society to accept homosexuality as normality -- and it's not."
SB 1437 would ban teachers, textbooks, instructional materials or school activities from reflecting "adversely" upon people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Following Monday's Assembly vote, 46-31, the bill will return to the Senate for what is expected to be routine concurrence in amendments before reaching the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The measure initially was wider in scope, seeking changes in social science curriculum to recognize the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica Democrat who crafted SB 1437, amended the bill after Schwarzenegger indicated that he would veto it.
"I think it's a small step forward, but it's a very important step," Kuehl said.
Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman, said the Republican governor has not said whether he will sign the narrowed SB 1437.
But Thompson said the governor continues to have concerns and "will not sign a bill that micromanages textbook selection."
SB 1437 applies to public school teachers, not those on privately funded campuses.
Violations of SB 1437 could be reported to the state Department of Education for possible reprisals.
Current California law provides similar prohibitions against teaching, activities or textbooks that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin or ancestry.
SB 1437 adds sexual orientation to the list of protected classes.
Under Kuehl's bill, public school teachers could not inform their students, for example, that homosexuality is immoral or wrong.
But SB 1437 does not specify what kinds of statements or activities would "reflect adversely" upon gays.
Campaign for Children and Families, a nonprofit advocacy group, claims that SB 1437 would ban textbooks that define marriage as between a man and a woman; or sex education that displays traditional examples of male and female sexual development; or homecoming games that feature only a male king and a female queen as campus representatives.
"If you can't say anything negative (about homosexuality) … that means you have to promote it," said Randy Thomasson, president of the group.
Kuehl, one of a handful of openly gay legislators, called such characterizations ridiculous.
"It's balderdash," she said.
Asked what the bill would ban, Kuehl said it might prevent a teacher from stating inaccurately that AIDS would not exist if not for gays, for example, or prohibit school field trips to any group that's "organized to bash gay people."
"It's really stopping the use of taxpayer money for hate speech and discrimination," said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the bill's sponsor.
But critics said state law already protects students against discrimination of any kind.
SB 1437 "seems to be a bill in search of a problem that doesn't exist," said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine.
About the writer:
The Bee's Jim Sanders can be reached at (916) 326-5538 or firstname.lastname@example.org.