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Sexual Politics Mar Meeting of Teacher Union

The American Family Association is reporting that the National Education Association has voted to endorse gay marriage, while officials with the teacher union maintain the group has no position on the subject and accuse the religious right of trying to create unrest within the 2.8-million-member NEA.

The Tupelo, Miss.,-based AFA, founded in 1977 by Methodist minister Donald Wildmon to combat smut on television, earlier took credit for pressuring the NEA to weaken language in the proposed resolution from what the AFA called an endorsement for expanding gay marriage to all 50 states to endorsing homosexual domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriage only in states that already legally recognize them.

But an NEA spokesman told EthicsDaily.com the resolution, one of several adopted by the NEA at its June 30-July 5 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., has nothing to do with the debate over gay marriage. “The NEA has no position on gay marriage,” said the spokesman, Andy Linebaugh.

The NEA has long supported domestic-partner and medical benefits for gay educators and their partners. The resolution, backed by the NEA’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus, reportedly was intended from the start to draw attention to the fact that even in states that recognize civil unions between same-gender couples they do not always enjoy equal rights.

The resolution as adopted amends the NEA’s diversity statement, which opposes discrimination based on factors including race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identification. “The Association also believes that these factors should not affect the legal rights and obligations of the partners in a legally recognized domestic partnership, civil union or marriage in regard to matters involving the other partner, such as medical decisions, taxes, inheritance, adoption and immigration,” the addition says.

A version of the amendment circulated earlier didn’t include the words “legally recognized.” The AFA attributed the change to pressure from religious conservatives after an NEA delegate reportedly leaked the language of the amendment to conservative groups.

On June 19 the AFA distributed an action alert warning the NEA is “set to endorse homosexual marriage” and translating the new amendment to mean “the NEA will promote homosexual marriage in every avenue they have available, including textbooks, to all children at all age levels and without the permission or knowledge of parents. Their plans will include every public school in America.”

Two days later a state NEA president sent out an e-mail with the “weaker” language, which Cybercast News Service concluded was “apparently prompted” by the protest.

Linebaugh told EthicsDaily.com the much-discussed language was added before the AFA campaign to clear up confusion about what the resolution originally meant. He said the resolution will have no effect on what is taught in classrooms.

NEA President Reg Weaver sent out a June 20 memorandum to state and national NEA leaders accusing the AFA and possibly other conservative groups of “a malicious e-mail campaign distorting the facts” related to the proposed resolution.

“While I understand that the emails and phone calls you are receiving are generating concern, we must not allow the tactics and manipulations of these divisive groups to derail our process,” Weaver said. “NEA has no position on same-sex marriages, and leadership is not seeking to establish such a position. We are focused on Great Public Schools for Every Child.”

NEA members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution, after rejecting a motion by the president of the Alabama Education Association asking that it be referred back to a resolutions committee.

Agape Press, the AFA news service, quoted a California teacher who said she is considering leaving the union. “People who share our values, which is traditional family and a few other things, can have no integrity unless they are either active on the inside to try and change things, or they leave the union and take their money out of the union’s hands,” said Jeralee Smith.

“I just think it’s time for Christians to really pray about their relationship to the union and do some real soul-searching on their loyalty,” she said. If they find their loyalty is still with the union, she suggested they ask themselves, “Just how much loyalty does the union deserve at this point?”

Smith is past chairperson of the NEA Ex-Gay Educators Caucus, a group formed two years ago to counter the NEA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus, which was established in 1987 to represent public-education employees concerned about sexual-orientation issues and how they affect students and school employees.

A confrontation developed when the ex-gay group was allowed for the first time to have a booth in the convention exhibit area. A group called TruthWinsOut.org protested their presence as a push by Exodus International to infiltrate public schools with their brand of “reparative therapy,” which they say can change a person’s sexual orientation but opponents say does more harm than good.

Smith, who describes herself as a former lesbian, told the Orlando Sentinel her group was there to combat the idea that people are genetically predisposed toward homosexuality. When the issue comes up in the classroom, she said, children should be exposed to the idea that homosexuality is a choice.

The main focus of attention for the 9,000 delegates that met in Orlando was launch of a comprehensive strategy to put educators at the forefront of improving public education and a call for changes to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which is set to expire in 2007.

“This is a critical time in the history of public education,” NEA President Reg Weaver said. “We have lived with the negative consequences of a fundamentally flawed law for almost five years and now our members are saying it’s time for a change. And no one is more qualified to bring real improvement to public education than the 2.8 million members of NEA.”

The comprehensive strategy approved by delegates encourages members to lobby Congress to support meaningful reform of NCLB. It calls for an increase in education funding and a decrease in the number of children per classroom in America’s schools. The plan also calls for using multiple measures to assess student achievement.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.