Education Week - May 6, 2015 - (Page 25)
Gets Full Airing
At High Court
By Mark Walsh
Two very different ways of thinking about
child-rearing permeated the U.S. Supreme Court
arguments last week over whether the Constitution
requires states to license or recognize samesex
"When you change the definition of marriage
to delink the idea that we're binding children
with their biological mom and dad, that has
consequences," said John J. Bursch, a special
assistant attorney general of Michigan, who defended
his state's ban on same-sex marriages,
as well as those of Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee.
nationally watched case has potential
ramifications for parental and family rights in
the K-12 context.
The four states defending their laws before the
justices on April 28 in Obergefell v. Hodges (No.
14-556) argue that keeping a traditional definition
of marriage ensures that when couples procreate,
their children will be born into a stable
family unit, and that the promotion of family
stability is a legitimate state interest.
But lawyers for those challenging the laws-
and for President Barack Obama's administration-stressed
that many children currently with
same-sex parents do not have the full protection
of the law because their states bar joint adoption
by two parents of the same sex.
"You have hundreds of thousands of children
raised in same-sex households now," U.S. Solicitor
General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said. "And what [the
states'] position and [states'] caution argument
leads you to is the conclusion that those hundreds
of thousands of children don't get the stabilizing
structure and the many benefits of marriage."
Several of the gay couples challenging their
states' laws seek to marry or have their marriages
from elsewhere recognized so they may
jointly adopt children in their household and be
sure of equal rights in school decisions. (See Education
Week, April 22, 2015.)
Those school issues largely went unaired during
the 2½ hours of arguments last week. But
there were references to the trial held in the
Michigan case, in which both sides presented
experts who discussed conflicting studies about
the educational outcomes of children in samesex
Mary L. Bonauto, a Boston lawyer representing
same-sex families, told the justices that "these issues
have been aired repeatedly, and there is, as
you all have heard, a social science consensus that
there's nothing about the sex or sexual orientation
of the parent that is going to affect child outcomes."
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy threw a bit of cold
water on the idea of weighing such evidence.
"It seems to me ... that we should not consult
at all the social science on this, because it's too
new," he said.
Scalia: Who Should Decide?
The justices appeared as divided as they were
two years ago in United States v. Windsor, when
they ruled 5-4 to strike down a key provision of
the federal Defense of Marriage Act and require
the federal government to recognize same-sex
marriages from the states that permit them.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented in Windsor
and once wrote in a dissent in another gayrights
case that "many Americans do not want
persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct
... as teachers in their children's schools,"
was less antagonistic from the bench last week.
"The issue, of course, is not whether there
should be same-sex marriage, but who should decide
the point," he said.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was in the majority
in Windsor, pressed Mr. Bursch on the states' arguments
that limiting marriage to opposite-sex
couples was to promote responsibility for children.
"This is what I think is difficult for some people
with your argument, is that it's hard to see how
permitting same-sex marriage discourages people
from being bonded with their biological children,"
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority
in Windsor, one in which he said the federal
law, known as doma, created a differentiation that
made same-sex marriages unequal and "humiliates
tens of thousands of children now being raised by
Both sides in the new case view Justice Kennedy
as the key vote. Last week, he had concerns
for both sides. He noted that opposite-sex
marriage has been an institution of societies for
thousands of years, while same-sex marriage
has been permitted in some states for only
about a dozen years.
"This definition [of opposite-sex marriage] has
been with us for millennia," he said to Mr. Bursch.
"It's very difficult for the court to say, 'Oh well, we
know better.' "
But later, he questioned how same-sex marriage
harms "traditional marriage."
"Same-sex couples say, 'Of course, we understand
the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage,'
" said Justice Kennedy. " 'We know we can't
procreate, but we want the other attributes of it
in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that
can be fulfilled.' "
A decision in the case is expected by late June.
Shelly Bailes, 74, left, and
her wife, Ellen Pontac,
73, of Davis, Calif., kiss
in front of the
U.S. Supreme Court
in Washington. The court
last month on whether
states can be required
to license or recognize
an issue with implications
for schools where the
children of same-sex
couples are enrolled.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 22
are raising about 58,000 adopted and
foster children. Almost half of those
children or 46 percent were being
raised by married same-sex parents.
Many districts are working to
build bonds with such families.
After more students in the San
Francisco school district began publicly
acknowledging that they had
LGBT parents, that district asked
students about their parents' sexual
orientation on its Youth Risk Behavior
Survey in 2011 and 2013. Gentle
Blythe, the district's chief communications
officer, explained that the
57,000-student district wanted to ensure
that the school system's programming
was inclusive of the needs of
same-sex parents and their children.
Today, however, Ms. Blythe said
the district no longer asks that
question since it could be perceived
as an inquiry regarding parental
behaviors. Instead, she said the
district is focused on developing
an inclusive curriculum and school
culture. In November, for example,
more than 190 people attended the
district's fourth annual LGBT Families
Dinner, which celebrates such
families and their allies.
Ms. Blythe noted that some San
Francisco elementary schools have
informally become a "big draw" for
same-sex couples. She said word-ofmouth
spread that certain schools
are a "great place for same-sex parents
to send their children."
In Washington, a city where the
Williams Institute estimates that
more than 8 percent of same-sex
couples are raising children, Diana
K. Bruce, director of health and wellness
for the District of Columbia
public school system, said the district
simply continued with its "obligation
to treat all children and parents
fairly" when same-sex marriage
became legal in the city in 2010. Ms.
Bruce said the district held "listening
sessions" in 2011 with LGBTheaded
families to inform its policies
"A lot of the families we spoke
with wanted to be normalized in the
school community," Ms. Bruce said.
"Many were able to do it. Serving on
the PTA. Running fundraisers."
But not all school districts are as
far along as San Francisco and the
District of Columbia, in meeting the
needs of LGBT parents. The newly
formed Stonewall National Education
Project is assisting public school
districts in establishing policies and
programs to protect and support
LGBT families and their children.
The Stonewall National Museum
and Archive in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.,
launched the initiative in 2013, with
a three-day symposium. It gathered
60 educators from 14 school districts,
including some from New York City,
Los Angeles, and Washington. About
160 education leaders representing
49 school districts are expected to attend
the project's third conference in
Fort Lauderdale May 13.
Jessica Herthel, the Stonewall National
Education Project's director,
said this year's conference will focus
on providing educators with specific
strategies to implement new programs
and changes to school policies,
like broadening anti-discrimination
rules to include gender identity. Ms.
Herthel said the project wants educators
to learn how to craft their message
to garner support for LGBT policies
"The magic of the Stonewall National
Education Project is not in
generating content," Ms. Herthel
said. "The magic is having the school
districts come together in our house
and help them build year-round
EDUCATION WEEK | May 6, 2015 | www.edweek.org | 25
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 6, 2015
Education Week - May 6, 2015
Some Balk as Testing Rolls Ahead
Nevada Exams Hit Tech Trouble
Science Standards Pop Up in Districts
Undocumented Students Strive to Adapt
State Takeover Gives Mass. District a Fresh Start
News in Brief
Chicago Schools Probe Prompts AASA to End Alliance With Firm
Researchers Target Ways to Design Better Mathematics Text Materials
GED Revisions Spur Bumpy Year for Equivalency Exams
After Baltimore Unrest, Students and Educators Seek Understanding
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: New Research Probes Frontiers of Tech Learning
Blogs of the Week
Efforts to Change Federal Aid Formulas Prove Tricky
New Research Emerges On LGBT Parents
Advocates for Special Ed., Gifted Weigh Details in ESEA Rewrite Bill
Blogs of the Week
Marriage Issue Gets Full Airing at High Court
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 6, 2015