Published September 27, 2007
A fairy tale about two princes falling in love sparked a backlash — and a lawsuit — against a teacher and a school last year when it was read to a second-grade class in Massachusetts.
But the three frontrunners in the Democratic presidential race suggested Wednesday night at their debate in New Hampshire that they’d support reading the controversial book to children as part of a school curriculum.
Moderator Tim Russert asked John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton whether they’d be comfortable having the story — called “King & King” — read to their children in school.
Edwards gave the first and most definitive answer — a resounding and instant “yes, absolutely” — although he added that it “might be a little tough” for second-graders.
Obama agreed with Edwards and revealed that his wife has already spoken to his 6- and 9-year-old daughters about same-sex marriage.
Clinton said she believes it’s up to parents to decide how to handle such topics, but added that it’s important to teach kids about the “many differences that are in the world.”
Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, and, as Russert pointed out Wednesday, most of the Democratic candidates have said they oppose it. But though they don't back the legislation, they apparently think it's OK to teach elementary-school students about gay marriage.
“I want my children to understand everything about the difficulties that gay and lesbian couples are faced with every day, the discrimination that they’re faced with every single day of their lives,” Edwards said. “I suspect my two younger children, Emma Claire, who’s 9, and Jack, who’s 7, will reach the same conclusion that my daughter Cate, who’s 25, has reached — which is, she doesn’t understand why her dad is not in favor of same-sex marriage.”
The 2004 vice presidential candidate and former North Carolina senator said he doesn’t want to influence his kids’ opinions about the issue.
“I don’t want to make that decision on behalf of my children,” he said. “I want my children to be able to make that decision on behalf of themselves, and I want them to be exposed to all the information, even in — did you say second grade? Second grade might be a little tough, but even in second grade to be exposed to all those possibilities, because I don’t want to impose my view. Nobody made me God.”
Obama told Russert that his sentiments are similar to those of Edwards, and, when asked whether he’d sat down to talk about same-sex marriage with his young daughters, he replied that his wife had.
“The fact is, my 9-year-old and my 6-year-old I think are already aware that there are same-sex couples,” the Illinois senator told the debate. “One of the things I want to communicate to my children is not to be afraid of people who are different. …. One of the things I think the next president has to do is stop fanning people’s fears. If we spend all our time feeding the American people fear and conflict and division, then they become fearful and conflicted and divided.”
Clinton said she respects the viewpoints of Obama and Edwards, but she sidestepped the question of whether she’d be comfortable having a storybook like “King & King” read to her own child at that age.
“With respect to your individual children, that is such a matter of parental discretion,” Clinton said. “Obviously, it is better to try to … help your children understand the many differences that are in the world. … And that goes far beyond sexual orientation. So I think that this issue of gays and lesbians and their rights will remain an important one in our country.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is vying for the Republican nomination for president, weighed in afterward with a statement accusing the Democratic candidates of being “out of touch” with America.
“Not one candidate was uncomfortable with young children learning about same-sex marriage in the second grade,” Romney said in the statement. “This is a subject that should be left to parents, not public school teachers. We need to strengthen our families by passing a federal marriage amendment and also insisting on marriage before having children. Change in Washington requires Democrats with the courage to stand up to their ultra liberal base and do what's right for our children."
Some Lexington, Mass., parents were livid that a Joseph Estabrook Elementary School teacher read “King & King” to their second-grade children in class.
The Dutch tale, which has been translated into English, is about a prince whose mother pressures him to find a princess but who ends up falling in love with and marrying the brother of one of the prospective brides instead.
Last year, a judge dismissed a federal lawsuit brought by two sets of parents of students in the class who objected to the introduction of homosexual themes to their 7-year-olds without alerting them first, on the grounds that it was a violation of the state’s sex-education parental notification clause.
School officials stood by their decision to teach about different kinds of marriage and said that Massachusetts law requires them to do so.