The Rev. Lou Sheldon has a warning for the Tamalpais Union High School District board: "What they are doing is going to catch up with them and it's going to bite real hard on the backside."

Sheldon called the board to task after learning it plans to remove a policy written 24 years ago by his group, the Traditional Values Coalition.

The Anaheim-based organization advocates for "Bible-based traditional values," including "protecting traditional marriage and family as the cornerstone of society," according to its website.

The group's policy, which was adopted in a 1988 state law, requires sex education to emphasize abstinence and teach, among other things, "honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage."

Numerous California school boards adopted the language, but most removed it after the law was rewritten in 2003.

Tamalpais appears to be the only Marin district with the language still on its books.

"It was horrifying when we saw that," Superintendent Laurie Kimbrel said at a school board meeting earlier this month.

Kimbrel said the policy is disrespectful toward gay students and others.

"It does not reflect either state laws or our beliefs," she said in an interview. "I'm sure it was a reflection of the way the world was in 1993 (when the district adopted the policy), but thankfully California is not in that same place anymore."

School board President Monica Bonny agreed.

"The goal of our sex education program should be to help kids make informed choices, to keep them healthy and safe and I don't think it's our place to dictate whether marriage is between a man or a woman or two people of the same gender, nor should it be our place to tell them whether marriage should be monogamous," she said.

Sex education has been a cultural battleground for decades, with some arguing schools should teach about contraceptives and HIV/AIDS prevention and others arguing they should promote abstinence.

The 1988 abstinence education law was supported by a number of advocacy groups including the Committee on Moral Concerns, the American Pro-Family Rights League and the American Family Association of California, in addition to Sheldon's coalition.

Opponents included the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Tamalpais schools officials did not expect the policy change to spark much controversy.

In 2008, Marin voters strongly endorsed gay marriage by rejecting Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban, with 75.1 percent of the vote.

When the 1988 sex education law was first proposed by the Traditional Values Coalition, it contained stronger language requiring students be taught to abstain from sex "until they are ready to establish a mutually monogamous heterosexual relationship within the context of marriage."

That language was dropped after the ACLU and other groups argued against it, according to legislative records.

"It's like in some churches when they serve wine for communion they put a little water in there," Sheldon said of the change in language.

Sheldon said he stands behind the original law.

"They haven't begun to realize the consequences of their actions," he said of the Tamalpais school board. "What they are trying to do is deconstruct the heterosexual ethic."

School board member Bob Walter had a different take on the issue.

"Welcome to the 21st century," he said at a board meeting.

The board will consider changing the policy at its meeting Oct. 10.

Contact Will Jason via email at wjason@marinij.com or via Twitter at http://twitter.com/willjason.