By Gus Bouchard
I can’t figure whether to applaud the good folks in charge of the Maine Education Association for taking a principled stand on the stickiest civil rights issue of our time, or if I should ridicule them for being a team of incompetent, psychotic circus clowns.
Either way, they apparently have a damn short memory.
In case you missed it, the MEA, the statewide teachers’ union, recently endorsed the marriage equality referendum. They said, in effect, that Maine’s teachers want gay people to be able to get married.
Normally, a political campaign will take all the endorsements they can get, but in this case, Mainers United for Marriage should have said “thanks, but no thanks.”
Maybe they weren’t consulted ahead of time. Or maybe they also have severe amnesia.
In 2009, voters overturned marriage equality because opponents were able to link it to education. “They will be teaching gay marriage in schools,” we were told. Commercials for what was then the “yes” campaign told stories of irresponsible grade-school teachers reading books about gay sex to kindergartners.
Let me repeat that, in case anyone from the MEA is reading: the winning strategy for marriage equality opponents in the referendum three years ago was to link gay marriage to public education.
The MEA has just done that for them.
Whose side are they on, anyway?
To be fair, there are legitimate reasons why teachers would support this referendum. Bullying of gay students, or students perceived to be gay, is a massive problem in Maine schools, one that teachers have a professional responsibility to address. Any political movement that reinforces the idea that homosexuals are deserving of equal rights and respect would, in theory, mark an important step in the gradual process of erasing the bull’s-eye on the back of that population, even if it has no legal influence over what happens in school.
But that’s a pretty nuanced connection, one that took me 76 words to explain – way too long for a sound byte. It’s much easier to make a 30-second commercial convincing people that gay marriage will enable dyke teachers to push gay sex on your kids than it is to make a 30-second commercial explaining how we must treat everyone with dignity and… zzzzzz….
The endorsement is not just bad for gay marriage, it’s bad for the MEA itself. Gov. Paul “What’s So Bad About Bullying” LePage had just launched a nasty PR campaign against the MEA, accusing them of being more concerned about peripheral political issues than they are about educating kids.
Mere days later, the MEA issued its gay marriage endorsement, inviting to governor to say, “See? I told you so!”
In an open letter to the MEA, Lepage criticized the union for spending its resources on stuff like “political campaigns, lobbying, protecting bad teachers, insurances sales, and providing golf and skiing discounts,” rather than on providing professional development opportunities for teachers.
Of course, the idea that unions should be responsible for training their members is preposterous. Imagine police officers or firefighters being told they have to provide and pay for their own mandatory trainings. They would have a fit and fall in it.
Historically, employee improvement and brainwashing have always been the responsibility of the employer. Why should teachers be any different?
So the MEA called B-S, and rightly so, but, again, their point got buried in the noise. It is a little too sensible to fit into a sound byte, unlike like this quote from the Christian Civic League of Maine:
“We think it would be better if the MEA would focus on academics rather than social engineering.”
Ouch. If that doesn’t stick in your memory, I don’t know what will.
We’ll see if gay marriage advocates remember it for the next referendum in 2015.