Proposition 8 and the Education Debate

by Nithya Joseph

Currently in California, heated debate after the November 4th referendum on Proposition 8 is ongoing and relentless. Proposition 8, which specif[ies] that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California1, passed with approximately a 52% majority2. Opponents of the proposition are up in arms, and protests of thousands of people have already been held across the state.

One might easily be confused as to why the voters of California, typically seen as progressive, would favor amending its constitution to eliminate same sex marriage. Although there are many factors, some analysts believe a major reason why the proposition passed had to do with education3. Although education is never mentioned in the proposition itself, supporters of the ban drew links to public education during the campaign.

According to the California Education Code (EC) §51933, educational institutions which choose to teach comprehensive education must teach respect for marriage and committed relationships. Because ninety-six percent of California school districts do choose to offer this instruction, supporters of the ban make the case that the concept of same sex marriage could be presented to children as early on as kindergarten in almost every district in the state4.

The Yes on 8 campaign a group in favor of the amendment to ban same sex marriage makes the claim that the legality of same sex marriage will impact daily standardized curriculum as well. Chip White, a spokesperson for Yes on 8, provided an example of a math word problem that described a boys two mothers going to a store; he used the example as a case where same sex marriage could be integrated into any or all core subjects in schools.

Despite the efforts of Yes on 8, major figures in the states education system believe the ties between Proposition 8 and the public school system to be incredibly weak. The California State Board of Education President, Ted Mitchell, as well as California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack OConnell, and his predecessor, Delaine Eastin, have all stated that Proposition 8 would not have had any impact on educational instruction in the classroom. Mitchell expressed disgust that Yes on 8 imputed an educational impact to the proposition, calling it political campaigning at its worst5.

In response to the educational concerns raised by the supporters of Proposition 8, opponents of the proposition remind voters of the actual statute within the states Education Code, which addresses this issue. EC §515506, which pertains directly to sex education, reserves the right for parents to know what is being taught in their childrens classrooms and to be able to remove their children from any lessons they feel conflict with their personal beliefs. But, it must remain clear that in most other subject areas parents rarely have the right to change the curriculum or pull their child out of a lesson7.

The connection between education and same sex marriage is far from solid. Considering that Proposition 8 never mentions education, the rationale that teachers across the state will suddenly incorporate examples of homosexual marriage is unlikely. While it is true that some parents would find it hard to pull their children out of individual lessons if teachers began changing their lessons to incorporate examples using same sex marriage in English, math, and history, it is hard unlikely that lesson plans across the state will change. Nevertheless, the supporters for Proposition 8 made their case, and judging from the results of the election, that case was made loud and clear. The strategy to shift the debates focus from same sex marriage to children and their education made the debate very personalized. Wagner Johnson, a Republican political consultant, remarked in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that it was masterful of the campaign to raise the implications of what it could mean in terms of the school system&[voters originally may have been] thinking that as long as it doesnt affect me, do what you want, but the supporters shifted the focus to children8. The tactic changes the focus of the debate for many voters. As soon as the implications of educational instruction entered the discussion, people paid less attention to equal rights and more to the protection of their childrens educational experience. Either side can argue the merits of framing Proposition 8 this way, but few can dispute the fact that this strategy was a major reason why Proposition 8 passed on November 4th.

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1 Proposition 8: Limit on Marriage. Constitutional Amendment (submitted July 17, 2008) Legislative Analyst Office: Californias Nonpartisan Fiscal and Policy Advisor. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from

2 Morain, D. & Garrison, J. (2008, November 6). Backers Focused Prop. 8 Battle Beyond Marriage. Los Angeles Times, located:,0,7899034,full.story

3 A Lesson about Prop. 8. (2008, October 21). Los Angeles Times, located:,0,7164183.story

4 Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from California Department of Education Web site:

5 State Education Officials Slam New Ads for Prop. 8 (2008, October 21). CBS Channel 5, located:

6 Proposition 8. (2008). Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from:

7 Question & Answer Guide on Californias Parental Opt-Out Statues: Parents and Schools Rights and Responsibilities Regarding Public School Curriculum. California Safe Schools Coalition. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from

8 Morain, D. & Garrison, J. (2008, November 6). Backers Focused Prop. 8 Battle Beyond Marriage. Los Angeles Times, located:,0,7899034,full.story

Email Nithya Joseph at



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