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Notre Dame delays vote on protection for gays

NCR Staff

About 200 people recently attended a rally at the University of Notre Dame in support of adding sexual orientation to the university’s nondiscrimination clause. The next day, the Academic Council postponed a vote on the issue, saying it needs more information on the legal and religious ramifications.

The Observer, the campus newspaper, also reported that at the council meeting, which was closed to the public, a faculty member claimed that a qualified candidate for a position on the faculty was not hired because of the candidate’s sexual orientation.

The Oct. 7 rally and the council meeting the next day followed more than a year of controversy on the issue, including the resignation of Fr. David Garrick, a former professor of communications and theater. Garrick resigned in March as a “heartfelt protest” of the university’s refusal to grant homosexuals legal protection from discrimination (NCR, April 10).

Nearly 20 students and faculty members spoke at the rally organized by the Progressive Student Alliance. Speakers criticized the argument that the university would face frivolous lawsuits if sexual orientation were included in the legal nondiscrimination clause.

“Is it more important to protect oneself from a lawsuit than to do what is right?” asked Jay Smith of the College Democrats. “It is a moral imperative that this university extend support to everyone.”

Participants also charged that Notre Dame was backing down from its Spirit of Inclusion statement, which was adopted in August 1997. It called on the Notre Dame community to “welcome all people, regardless of color, gender ... [and] sexual orientation.”

Alyssa Hellrung, co-president of Outreach ND, a group of gay and lesbian students, called the inclusion statement “a feeble attempt” to address discrimination against homosexuals. “It didn’t work, or else Fr. Garrick wouldn’t have resigned,” she said.

When Garrick resigned, he claimed that his suspension from his duties as a minister in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the main church on campus, came as a result of his coming out as a gay celibate priest in The Observer.

Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Phil Donahue, a 1957 Notre Dame alumnus, sent letters of support that were read at the rally along with a letter from Garrick.

“The truth is that at Notre Dame gay people do not have the legal right to announce, either openly or privately, that they are gay,” Garrick wrote. “At Notre Dame they can be penalized for making such an announcement. For example, students who are known to be gay have not been appointed as resident assistants. Faculty who are known to be gay have not been appointed as advisers to gay student groups. This lack of legal protection is a serious form of oppression.”

The Observer reported that during the Academic Council’s Oct. 8 meeting, Carolyn Woo, dean of the College of Business Administration, said that a prospective faculty member was not offered employment after admitting to being a homosexual. Woo said that the candidate was by far the most qualified applicant for the job, The Observer said.

The council postponed its vote on the proposed amendment to the university’s nondiscrimination clause until its next meeting Nov. 17. The council cited lack of information about the legal and religious issues surrounding the amendment.

“As a voting member, I’d like to be as informed as possible,” said Charles Kulpa, professor of biological sciences. “I think it’s a wise decision.”

Sophie Fortin, who cowrote the Student Senate resolution calling on the council to approve the change, also approved of the decision to postpone. “The strongest argument is definitely going to come out from [the research and debate],” she told The Observer. “The more you know, the more it is going to come out that [approval] is the best decision.”

If the Academic Council passes the proposal, it will be brought before the Board of Trustees for final approval. The board’s next meeting will be in February.

National Catholic Reporter, October 30, 1998