Rep. Jones takes fight over gay marriage to school libraries

The political fracas over gay marriage, which has raged in the courts and Congress over the past couple of years, has spilled over into an unlikely battleground: the nation’s public school system.

With the Federal Marriage Amendment unlikely to pass this Congress, some House Republicans are planning to move legislation that would restrict access to children’s books about homosexuals.
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Rep. Walter Jones.

After reading news articles about a 7-year-old girl borrowing a children’s book from her school library about two men marrying, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) began to craft legislation that would give parents a significant role in reviewing literature before it can be accessed by young children.

Jones’s bill, introduced late last week, would establish review boards of five to 15 parents who would analyze and make recommendations on potential purchases by educational entities.

The impetus behind the legislation is a book titled King and King, which starts out with a queen urging her son to marry and ends with the prince tying the knot with another prince. The book, which is advertised for children from 4 to 8 years old, shows the two men kissing with their lips hidden by a heart.

The parents of the 7-year-old who borrowed the book told the Star-News of Wilmington, N.C., last year that they were shocked about where the story was headed as their daughter read it aloud.

Jones said he hopes that his bill will “help parents take back their right to regulate the appropriateness of the content their children are exposed to.” His legislation would prohibit states from receiving federal education money unless they have “certain policies and procedures” on buying books for elementary-school use.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian rights group, strongly opposes the bill. Christopher Barron, the group’s political director, called the bill “a federal power grab” that “flies in the face” of the long-held Republican stance on states’ rights.

Barron said decisions on purchasing books should be left to the states, adding that the legislation “would be laughable if it weren’t real.”

Responding to those criticisms, Jones said he has analyzed the issue extensively and concluded that the only viable approach to restricting children’s access to books such as King and King is through the processes outlined in his bill.

“You can’t ban the book,” Jones said. “This is the only way to do it.”

Jones said that by returning power to parents on the state and local level, his bill will promote states’ rights.

Jones’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The panel’s chairman, Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE (R-Ohio), is interested in moving the bill and directed his committee staff to work with Jones in writing it, according to Jones and Hill staffers.

A committee spokeswoman said BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE will continue to work with Jones “to build awareness of the issue among parents.”

Jones, who says he regularly carries a copy of King and King to emphasize his point, is scheduled to discuss his bill this week with the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 House conservatives.

Beverley Becker of the American Library Association said her group supports parental involvement in what their children are reading. However, she said, the group has concerns about the bill because schools already have review mechanisms in place and Jones’s bill appears to “add a [review] layer that’s not necessary.”

A Jones aide said, “By moving to a proactive instead of reactive process for book purchasing, we can foster debate and ensure that public schools accurately reflect the morals and social values of their communities.”

Groups that favor the Federal Marriage Amendment declined to comment by press time on the Jones bill.

King and King has also triggered Republican criticism in Oklahoma. Republican members in Oklahoma’s state Legislature last week threatened to withhold funding for libraries if they do not remove books about homosexuality from children’s-book shelves.