Stand For Marriage Maine launched the ad Sept. 23, spotlighting a Massachusetts couple whose son's second-grade class was read a book, "King & King," about a prince who "marries" another prince. The couple objected and requested notification of similar books in the future, but the school refused. The couple then sued in federal court and lost.
The ad is at the heart of an effort to pass Question 1, an initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot that would overturn Maine's recently passed "gay marriage" law.
The couple, Robb and Robin Wirthlin, were featured prominently in a similar TV ad in California last year in the fight over Proposition 8, which passed. In fact, the issue of what would and would not be taught in California's schools became the leading issue in the final weeks of the Prop 8 campaign, and opponents of the California initiative struggled to come up with a believable response. Supporters of Maine Question 1 are hoping for a repeat.
"The only way to be sure that homosexual marriage won't be taught in Maine is to pass Question 1," Stand for Marriage Maine campaign director Marc Mutty wrote in an e-mail to constituents. "Our opponents have spent the past week claiming that, 'Question 1 has nothing to do with schools or education,' as [Question 1 opponent] Jesse Connolly told the Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel. Massachusetts parents didn't think that the legalization of gay marriage there would result it in being taught in Massachusetts schools. But it did."
Connolly, campaign manager of Protect Maine Equality, the primary group opposing Question 1, sent an e-mail to constituents the day the new ad was released, arguing that the ad was the "exact same ad" that had been run in California and that "Maine's marriage equality law has nothing to do with public schools and marriage is not taught in Maine schools."
Protect Maine Equality already has tried to counter the public schools charge with its own ad, which featured schoolteacher Sherri Gould of Corinna, Maine, in a classroom saying, "I've been teaching in Maine schools since 1983. We teach respect and Maine values. That will never change." With the ad showing pictures of different families, a narrator says, "Outsiders are trying to harm our kids and schools by deceiving families about what's taught in Maine classrooms. It won't work. Because in Maine, all families put children first."
Stand for Marriage Maine's new ad shows the Wirthlins, sitting on a couch. "After Massachusetts legalized gay marriage," Robin Wirthlin says, "our son came home and told us the school taught him that boys can marry other boys. He's in second grade!" Robb Wirthlin adds, "We tried to stop public schools from teaching children about gay marriage, but the court said we had no right to object or to pull him out of class." The scene then shifts to a teacher, Charla Bansley of Ellsworth, who says, "It's already happened in Massachusetts. Vote yes on Question 1 to prevent homosexual marriage from being taught in Maine schools."
One Maine TV station, Portland's WMTW Channel 8, questioned Stand for Marriage Maine's argument and in a Sept. 21 story asserted, "According to the Department of Education, no specific curriculum language exists or would exist that instructs schools to teach about marriage."
Mutty acknowledges that there is no statewide requirement regarding marriage curriculum, but he said that's not the point.
"While we all know that curriculum decisions in Maine are largely up to local school boards, we also know that there is already tremendous pressure on local school boards from Augusta to adopt 'gay friendly' curriculum TODAY, and gay marriage isn't even legal now," he wrote. "If they succeed in defeating Question 1 and legalizing homosexual marriage, this pressure on local school boards will dramatically increase. This is what happened in Massachusetts, and it will happen in Maine too. Any instruction on marriage cannot avoid a discussion of homosexual marriage, since the law will define marriage as genderless -- traditional and homosexual marriage will legally be the same thing."