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School boards are prodded to take a stance in gay marriage debate

When it comes to political views, Jim Gibson of Vista and Mike Katz-Lacabe of San Leandro are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Gibson, 54, a father of four, is a conservative and an evangelical Christian; Katz-Lacabe, 40, describes his politics as "hippie-liberal-granola."

But the two men have a bond: Both are school board members in small California districts who have proposed that their boards wade into the debate on Proposition 8, the initiative that would amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in California.

The initiative is the most hotly contested social issue on the ballot this fall, and although the boards' actions would have little effect in the classroom, both men said they thought it was important for their school boards to take a public position.

The deliberations in Vista, San Leandro and other communities reflect deep-seated divides in California culture and politics. They also have provoked debate about the role school boards should take in the political process.

Gibson serves on the board of the Vista Unified School District in conservative northern San Diego County. The school board made news in the 1990s when it passed a resolution to encourage the inclusion of creationism in the curriculum. That conservative majority is no longer on the board, but even so, Gibson said he planned to ask his colleagues at their next meeting to endorse the anti-marriage proposition.

"This is an important issue for our culture," said Gibson, who owns a telecommunications company. "The most stable unit in society right now is the family, and that is based on a marriage between a man and a woman. It has been that way for thousands and thousands of years. . . . It's the best way to raise kids. It's that simple."

Katz-Lacabe, a computer security consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of San Leandro, strongly disagreed. "This amendment would essentially enshrine discrimination into the Constitution . . . a perfect example of state-sponsored discrimination," he said.

And that, said Katz-Lacabe (he added Lacabe to his name after he married Argentine-born human rights activist Margarita Lacabe), is a "horrible, horrible idea."

This month, he joined fellow board member Stephen Cassidy in trying -- and failing -- to persuade the San Leandro board to oppose Proposition 8.

Katz-Lacabe and Gibson are following the lead of the 21,000-student Grossmont Union High School District in conservative eastern San Diego County, which last month voted to endorse the ballot initiative.

Grossmont school board member Jim Kelly, whose day job is working in insurance, said he proposed supporting the measure because "we need family-friendly schools." If same-sex marriage is allowed, then "once you start that game, why is it two people? Why can't it be more people? Why can't it be animals? You destroy the institution."

He also said he thought it was important for school boards to become involved because if gay marriage remains legal, changes in the state curriculum are certain to follow. He said the state could require that children as young as kindergartners be taught that they should support same-sex marriage.

Tina Jung, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, dismissed that as untrue, noting that "there is nothing in the California Education Code that requires schools to teach anything about marriage at all."

Still, many parents fear that their children are having values "foisted" on them in the classroom that conflict with their parents' views, said Grossmont parent Jim Garlow, who is lead pastor of Skyline Community Church in nearby La Mesa.

Garlow, who is helping organize pastors across the state and the nation to fight same-sex marriage, said he was pleased to see his local school board take a position that reflects the values of parents in the community.

Not all East County parents agreed.

Kim Densel, whose son will start at Granite Hills High School in the Grossmont district in fall, said she was shocked to hear of the board's vote. "Actually, I don't think they should have a position on it," she said, adding that she did not think school boards should be involved in social issues.

Four hundred miles away, San Leandro school board President Ray Davis agreed that school boards shouldn't get involved in such matters. He feels so strongly about it, he said, that he did not support the proposal by his fellow board members even though he is fervently opposed to Proposition 8.

"I will do everything in my power to convince other people not to support this [amendment]," he said. "But as a school board, our mission is for educating our children."

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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