AUSTIN, Texas -- The state Board of Education approved new health textbooks for the state's high school and middle school students yesterday after the publishers agreed to change the wording to depict marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
The decision involves two of the biggest textbook publishers and represents another example of Texas exerting its market clout as the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks. Officials say the decision could affect hundreds of thousands of books in Texas alone.
On Thursday, a board member said proposed new books ran counter to a Texas law banning the recognition of gay civil unions because the texts used such terms as ''married partners" instead of ''husband and wife."
After hearing the debate Thursday, one publisher, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, agreed to include a definition of marriage as a ''lifelong union between a husband and a wife." The definition, which was added to middle school textbooks, already was in Holt's high school editions, Holt spokesman Rick Blake said.
The other publisher, Glencoe/
''The board expressed an interest in having us make the change," Blake said. ''We thought it was a reasonable thing to do."
But Blake said the publisher does not plan to add its definition of marriage in books that will be sold outside Texas. A spokeswoman for Glencoe/ McGraw-Hill did not respond to questions late yesterday.
A list of books that the board approved, as well as those it did not, are sent to school districts for guidance when they choose books.
Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, asked the panel to approve the books without the changes, but her proposal was rejected on a 10-to-4 vote.
''We're not supposed to make changes at somebody's whim," Berlanga said. ''It's a political agenda, and we're not here to follow a political agenda."
Board member Terri Leo, a Republican, said she was pleased with the publishers' changes.
She had led the push to get the publishers to change the texts, objecting to what she called ''asexual stealth phrases" such as ''individuals who marry."
''Marriage has been defined in Texas, so it should also be defined in our health textbooks that we use as marriage between a man and a woman," Leo said.
Texas legislators last year passed a law that prohibits the state from recognizing same-sex civil unions. The state already had a ban on gay marriage.
Neither publisher added all the changes Leo initially advocated. For instance, one proposed passage in the teacher's editions read: ''Opinions vary on why homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals as a group are more prone to self-destructive behaviors like depression, illegal drug use, and suicide."
Randall Ellis, executive director of the Lesbian/ Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said the board overstepped its bounds in suggesting and adopting the new wording.
''Their job is to review for factual information, and instead what we see is the insertion of someone's ideology and agenda into the textbook of middle-schoolers," Ellis said.
The board's approval caps months of debate over health textbooks. Much of the debate had centered on how much sex education should be included in high school books.
A controversy arose last year in Texas when the board approved new biology textbooks that contained Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, brushing aside opposition from religious groups.