SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–California's first-in-the-nation public school gay history law could be reversed by voters next year if a coalition of conservative groups collects enough signatures.
The coalition, known as StopSB48, must collect 500,000 valid signatures by Oct. 7 in order to place the issue on the ballot for the next statewide election, likely in 2012. Signatures already are being gathered. The referendum often is called a “people's veto.”
The new law, signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, could impact other states because it forces social science textbooks to include the “role and contributions” of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.” California is one of the nation's largest buyers of textbooks, and its textbooks often make their way to other states.
“There are two or three states which, because of their population, drive the textbook industry for the other 47 states — California being the first among equals,” Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the California-based Pacific Justice Institute, told Baptist Press. “If these textbook companies are required to adopt these new standards, then that could be in essence the standard by default on a number of other states that purchase California textbooks.”
The Pacific Justice Institute is part of the StopSB48 coalition, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Capitol Resource Institute. The coalition gets its name from the bill's number.
The new law prohibits instructional materials from “reflecting adversely” upon homosexuals — language some conservative leaders say would impact what is taught about marriage.
The law, which has yet to take effect, also requires the contributions of Pacific Islanders and persons with disabilities to be included in the textbooks, but the language about homosexuals has been at the heart of the controversy.
Parental rights and religious liberty are under assault, critics say. The coalition's website says the law “forces children to study materials that tell them their families' values are wrong.”
“This law doesn't provide for any opt-outs for parents,” Snider said, “and so the way the law would work would be that parents would have no more recourse to opt their kids out of this than they could out of a section on, say, the Napoleonic Wars.”
The law also has no age or grade limit, leading opponents to charge that gay history could be taught in elementary school.
The law passed the Assembly, 49-25, and the Senate, 23-14, each controlled by Democrats.
Brown said the law is needed.
“History should be honest,” he said in a statement. “This bill revises existing laws that prohibit discrimination in education and ensures that the important contributions of Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life are included in our history books. It represents an important step forward for our state…”
Others, though, disagreed.
“I think it's one thing to say that we should be tolerant,” Republican state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly said during floor debate, according to the Associated Press. “It is something else altogether to say that my children are going to be taught that this lifestyle is good.”
He added, “As a Christian I am deeply offended.”
Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, said the goal for supporters of the law is “to put homosexuality on the same level as a minority status based on race or color or religion.”
For more information or to download petitions, visit www.StopSB48.com
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.