Hope Starts Here?

“Hope Starts Here”  was this year’s theme for the annual NEA Representative Assembly which was held in San Diego, CA, July 1-6, 2009.  Approximately 90 new business items were discussed as nearly 9,000 delegates did business and made policy for the largest, democratic, deliberative body in the world.

Among the new business items discussed was the issue of same-sex marriage.  The new business item was brought forward by the NEA Board of Directors.  See the wording below.

“NEA will support its affiliates seeking to enact state legislation that guarantees to same-sex couples the right to enter into a legally recognized relationship pursuant to which they have the same rights and benefits as similarly-situated heterosexual couples including, without limitation, rights and benefits with regard to medical decisions, taxes, inheritance, adoption, and immigration. . . NEA does not believe that a single term must be used to designate this legally recognized ‘equal treatment’ relationship, and recommends that each state decide for itself whether ‘marriage,’ ‘civil union,’ ’domestic partnership,’ or some other term is most appropriate based upon the cultural, social, and religious values of its citizenry. . . NEA will support its affiliates in opposing state constitutional and/or statutory provisions that could have the effect of prohibiting the state and its political subdivisions from providing the same rights and benefits to same-sex couples as are provided to similarly situated heterosexual couples. . . NEA will take such actions as may be appropriate to support efforts to (a) repeal any federal legislation and/or regulations that discriminate against same-sex couples, and (b) enact federal legislation and/or regulations that treat same-sex couples and similarly-situated heterosexual couples equally with regard to social security, health care, taxation, and other federal rights and benefits. . .NEA recognizes that the term ‘marriage’ has religious connotations and that same-sex marriages may not be compatible with the beliefs, values, and/or practices of certain religions. Because of its support for the separation of church and state and the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, NEA supports the right of religious institutions to refuse to perform or recognize same-sex marriages. ”

Debate of this issue was cut short after a total of only about nine speakers when President Van Roekel, in an unusual move, although not against Robert’s Rules of Order, asked delegates to vote on closing debate with many more speakers on both sides of the issue still lined up to speak.  Usual procedure waits for delegates, rather than leadership, to request an end to debate.  The new business item was then adopted by the assembly.  Some delegates felt that there was not enough debate to make an informed decision on a topic which may be divisive and/or have ramifications on membership.

Susan Halvorson, NEA Ex-gay Caucus chair, at the Resolutions Open Hearing asked that ex-gays be added to the list of groups in a diverse society that should receive respect, understanding, acceptance and sensitivity under the broad category of Educational Equity.  Among others, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons were already on the list.  Rational to include ex-gays included a current court ruling in Washington, D.C. (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, Inc.  v.  Government of the District Office of Human Rights) identifying ex-gays as a protected class and the American Psychological Association’s 2008 statement calling on health organizations to respect a person’s right to self-determination.  After discussion, the resolutions committee denied the request.

Another area of concern is that there is no ex-gay representation on any NEA committees.  Inclusion of ex-gays has been requested for the NEA Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification Committee.  To date this request has also been denied.

Once again the NEA ExGay Educators’ Caucus had a booth at the Expo distributing many pieces of ex-gay literature to interested delegates and guests who stopped by.  Four ex-gays shared their stories of finding freedom from unwanted same-sex attraction.

The 2009 NEA Representative Assembly was a message of hope for some, but in many ways, denied hope to ex-gays and those with unwanted same-sex attraction.

Susan Halvorson

NEA Ex-Gay Educators’ Caucus Chair

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