Saturday, October 11, 2008

Class surprises lesbian teacher on wedding day

A group of San Francisco first-graders took an unusual field trip to City Hall on Friday to toss rose petals on their just-married lesbian teacher - putting the public school children at the center of a fierce election battle over the fate of same-sex marriage.

The 18 Creative Arts Charter School students took a Muni bus and walked a block at noon to toss rose petals and blow bubbles on their just-married teacher Erin Carder and her wife Kerri McCoy, giggling and squealing as they mobbed their teacher with hugs.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a friend of a friend, officiated.

A parent came up with the idea for the field trip - a surprise for the teacher on her wedding day.

"She's such a dedicated teacher," said the school's interim director Liz Jaroslow.

But there was a question of justifying the field trip academically. Jaroflow decided she could.

"It really is what we call a teachable moment," Jaroflow said, noting the historic significance of same-sex marriage and related civil rights issues. "I think I'm well within the parameters."

Nonetheless, the excursion offers Proposition 8 proponents fresh ammunition for their efforts to outlaw gay marriage in California, offering a real-life incident that echoes their recent television and radio ads.

"It's just utterly unreasonable that a public school field trip would be to a same-sex wedding," said Chip White, press secretary for the Yes on 8 campaign. "This is overt indoctrination of children who are too young to have an understanding of its purpose."

The trip illustrates the message promoted by the campaign in recent days, namely that unless Prop. 8 passes on Nov. 4, children will learn about same-sex marriage in school.

"It shows that not only can it happen, but it has already happened," White said.

California Education Code permits school districts to offer comprehensive sex education, but if they do, they have to "teach respect for marriage and committed relationships."

Parents can excuse their child from all or part of the instruction.

On Friday, McCoy and Carder, both in white, held hands on Newsom's office balcony overlooking the rotunda and recited their vows.

"With this ring, I thee wed!" Carder said, shouting the last word for emphasis.

After traditional photos, the two walked out City Hall's main doors where the students were lined up down the steps with bags of pink rose petals and bottles of bubbles hanging from their necks. McCoy, a conferences services coordinator, was in on the surprise and beamed as the children swarmed around Carder.

The two said they have participated in the campaign against Proposition 8 and planned to travel around San Francisco on Friday afternoon in a motorized trolley car with "Just Married" and "Vote No on 8" banners.

The two met on a dance floor two years ago.

"This is one girl I can honestly say deserves happiness, and it came in the form of Kerri," said Carder's friend Dani Starelli.

Creative Arts administrators and parents acknowledged that the field trip might be controversial, but they didn't see the big deal. Same-sex marriage is legal, they noted.

"How many days in school are they going to remember?" asked parent Marc Lipsett. "This is a day they'll definitely remember."

Carder's students said they were happy to see their new teacher married.

"She's a really nice teacher. She's the best," said 6-year-old Chava Novogrodsky-Godt, wearing a "No on 8" button on her shirt. "I want her to have a good wedding."

Chava's mothers said they are getting married in two weeks.

The students' parents are planning to make a video with the children describing what marriage is to them.

Marriage, 6-year-old Nolan Alexander said Friday, is "people falling in love."

It means, he added, "You stay with someone the rest of your life."

As is the case with all field trips, parents had to give their permission and could choose to opt out of the trip. Two families did. Those children spent the duration of the 90-minute field trip back at school with another first-grade class, the interim director said.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's not controversial for me," Jaroflow said. "It's certainly an issue I would be willing to put my job on the line for."

E-mail Jill Tucker at jtucker@sfchronicle.com.

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