Ronald Reagan and Gay Rights
In 1978, California voters rejected Proposition 6, which would have barred gays from teaching in public schools. The defeat of Prop. 6 is often attributed to Ronald Reagan’s opposition to the measure, as expressed in a Los Angeles Herald-Examiner op-ed right before the election. (He probably didn’t write the op-ed himself. While he did write the radio addresses that he gave in this period, the newspaper columns were typically drafted by his aides.)
I was interested in reading this, but to my dismay I found that it was not available online. So when I was in DC last week, I went to the Library of Congress and got it. Below the fold is a reproduction of the op-ed. I hope this will be helpful to Reagan scholars. I’ll comment on what he had to say in a separate post.
“Two ill-advised California trends” — Ronald Reagan, November 1, 1978
If blue jeans and drive-in churches weren’t enough to convince you that California sets trends, Proposition 13 should have left no doubt. Californians aren’t stopping with the tax revolt, however. The Golden State’s November ballot contains two controversial measures which, pass or fail, have the potential for setting more national trends.
One, Proposition 5, would be the nation’s toughest anti-smoking law. The other, Proposition 6, would provide for firing teachers who “advocate” homosexuality.
The measures are similar in that they would mean more government (in fact, the author of Prop. 6, State Sen. John Briggs, said in a recent interview “government is the whole ball game”). The two measures also present enforcement problems–Prop. 5 because it would be difficult to enforce except at great cost and Prop. 6 because it could be over-enforced.
Proposition 5 sets out to protect non-smokers from the fumes of those hooked on the weed. It would prohibit smoking in nearly all public places, but the hitch is that it defines private places of employment as “public.” Shades of newspeak in Orwell’s “1984.” Restaurants would be required to have smoking and non-smoking sections. And, as with offices and factories, the owners would have to foot the cost for the “No Smoking” signs. Ironically, the measure would permit smoking in public auditoriums when a rock concert, roller derby or professional boxing or wrestling match is the attraction, but not if the fare is an amateur event or a jazz concert.
Short of recruiting an army of smoking police, the measure seems unenforceable. Smoking is already prohibited in many public buildings, but this measure goes well beyond, to restrict both personal liberties and private property rights. That reasonable smokers and non-smokers can use a little common courtesy in working out their differences seems not to have occurred to the proponents of Prop. 5. If it passes, it won’t be the first time a false assumption found its way into law and made government grow.
Proposition 6 rests on several assumptions. The two most frequently mentioned are that teachers can influence the sexual orientation of children because they are “role models” and that homosexual teachers will molest their pupils. Briggs told an interviewer the other [day] that “Everybody knows that homosexuals are child molesters. Not all of them, but most of them. I mean, that’s why they are in the teaching profession.”
Although statistics are not kept nationally, informed observers usually put the percentage of child molesting cases by homosexuals at well under 10 percent. The overwhelming majority of such cases are committed by heterosexual males against young females.
As to the “role model” argument, a woman writing to the editor a Southern California newspaper said it all: “If teachers had such power over children I would have been a nun years ago.”
Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.
Had Proposition 6 been confined to prohibiting the advocacy in the classroom of a homosexual lifestyle (and sex-before-marriage, “swinging.” and adultery, for that matter) it would no doubt enjoy much wider support than it does. Instead, the measure calls for firing teachers who engage in homosexual activity (something already covered by California law) or homosexual “conduct,” which it defines as “advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting private or public homosexual activity . . . ” It is that passage–and especially the word “advocacy” — that has generated heavy bipartisan opposition to the measure.
Since the measure does not restrict itself to the classroom, every aspect of a teacher’s personal life could presumably come under suspicion. What constitutes “advocacy” of homosexuality? Would public opposition to Prop. 6 by a teacher–should it pass–be considered advocacy?
The measure would require formal school board hearings if a teacher is accused. Under the present law an informal investigation can be conducted to determine the merits of charges against a teacher. Though the formal hearings under Prop. 6 would be private (unless the accused wanted them public), how do you keep such charges private in a small community? And how do you prevent an overwrought child with bad grades from seeking revenge by accusing the teacher of a homosexual advance or “advocacy”? Under Prop. 6, you don’t.
Will California rewrite that old line to read, “As California goes, so goes the nation”? Here is one heterosexual non-smoker who, where Props. 5 and 6 are concerned, hopes the answer is “no.”