2020 Elections: Sex Education on the Ballot in Washington, Definition of Marriage in Nevada
Bishops in each state speak out against the two proposals that are in direct conflict with Church teaching.
WASHINGTON — Washington state voters have a chance to reject a new “comprehensive” sex education law this Election Day, and the state’s Catholic bishops say they should.
Meanwhile, Nevada voters can decide whether to preserve constitutional language recognizing marriage as a union of one man and one woman, although the state is required by a 2015 Supreme Court decision to recognize same-sex marriage.
Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg of Seattle, speaking on behalf of the Washington State Catholic Conference, sought to rally voters to reject a comprehensive sexual health bill presented in measure R 90. “The bishops of Washington state strongly recommend that you check ‘reject’ on Referendum 90,” he said in an Oct. 12 video.
“This new law opposes Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person, on human sexuality, and the proper role of parents in forming their children,” he said. “The sexual health education law is not only in opposition to Catholic Church teaching. We also believe it is detrimental to the formation of our youth.”
“It does not adequately address the complex moral issues tied to human sexuality and the development of the human person,” Mueggenborg continued. “Neither does the law properly discuss sexual relationships in the context of marriage, but rather it leaves such encounters up to a host of settings, even to children.”
The proposal “does not adequately address complex moral issues tied to human sexuality nor properly discuss sex in the context of marriage,” the Washington State Catholic Conference said in a flier. Its requirements on teaching consent, for instance, do not address Catholic teaching that sexual activity should take place only between married spouses.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has said public school districts would be able to choose from a variety of full sex ed curricula and supplemental curricula for grades K-5, grades 6-8, and high schoolers, respectively. According to Seattle Weekly, the office said that grades K-3 curricula focus on “social-emotional learning.”
The state superintendent’s office says it is appropriate for fourth-graders to learn how to define sexual orientation and gender identity. Later grades would learn about healthy relationships, consent, developmental growth, the functions of reproductive systems, how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs. They are also supposed to understand the influences of family, peers, community and the media on healthy sexual relationships.
The state superintendent office's sexual health education program supervisor Laurie Dils told Seattle Weekly that many schools that already teach sexual education likely already cover some or all of the requirements, especially in grades 4-12. An estimated 60% of the state's 295 school districts teach what is considered comprehensive sex education, and the state law is aimed to address those that teach no sex education or partial sex education.
Bishop Mueggenborg, however, warned that the measure “does not allow local communities to protect their own values.”
The Catholic conference's flier added: “The Catholic principle of subsidiarity holds that certain issues are best dealt with locally. The sensitive matter of sex education is one such example of the appropriateness of handling some governmental issues at the local level.”
While defenders of the sex education mandate have rejected claims that one curriculum will be mandated for the whole state, the Catholic conference argued that this does not reflect the full truth.
“Locally elected school boards cannot fully determine their own policy in this sensitive area,” the conference said. It explained that although school districts are permitted to create their own curriculum based on the state's 2005 health standards, the sex education mandate is not funded and so school districts are more likely to rely on the existing state curriculum than to create their own without funds.
The Catholic conference warned that such sex education can have an effect on the school's general atmosphere.
“Parents can opt their children out of classroom instruction, but they cannot opt them out of schoolyard discussions and the culture change that may take place at school as the result of (comprehensive sexual health education),” warned the flier.
The flier cited the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, which stressed the need to safeguard the right of parents to “educate their children in the bosom of the family.”
In Nevada, voters can decide whether to change the state constitution’s definition of marriage.
In 2002, over 67% of Nevada voters voted in favor of a marriage amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman in the state constitution.
On this year’s state ballot is Question 2, titled “Marriage Regardless of Gender,” which would repeal the 2002 measure. It would require the State of Nevada and its political subdivisions to recognize marriages and issue licenses to “couples, regardless of gender.”
Regardless of the state constitution, the state now follows the definition of marriage mandated by the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges. By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court required that all states allow same-sex unions legally recognized as marriages.
Backers of Question 2 have said there have still been legal challenges against legally recognized same-sex marriage based on state constitutional definitions, such as an effort earlier this year in Tennessee which argued county clerks were wrong to distribute licenses to same-sex couples.
While Nevada’s 2020 ballot measure recognizes the rights of clergy and religious organizations to refuse to perform a marriage, this is an area rarely contested in the courts. Rather, the legal redefinition of marriage has posed significant religious freedom problems for religious organizations, schools, social services, adoption agencies, businesses and individuals that do not recognize same-sex unions as marriages.
Question 2 was placed on the 2020 Nevada ballot after two consecutive sessions of the state legislature voted to place it there.
The Nevada Catholic Conference was not available for comment. The Diocese of Carson City did not respond to CNA's request for comment. The Diocese of Las Vegas did not have comment on Question 2 specifically, but a spokesperson noted that Bishop George Leo Thomas of Las Vegas recently said Pope Francis has been consistent in his belief that “marriage is a union between a man and a woman... It's the nature of things.”
Bishop Thomas' remarks came in the context of clarification after confusion regarding a video including footage of the pope's remarks on civil unions for same-sex couples.