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Gay marriage rulings may affect ND housing

Dolores Diaz | Friday, January 16, 2004

The University Office of Residence Life and Housing could face allowing same-sex marriage partners to reside in campus marriage housing residents if Massachusetts’ ruling allowing same-sex marriages becomes a national trend.The University also could change its graduate family housing contracts, which limit lodging to degree-seeking students and their spouses pending proof of marriage, but does not specify that the couples must be male and female, which would create a loophole if Indiana acknowledged gay civil unions.However Mary Gude, assistant vice president of student affairs and standing committee chair for gay and lesbian student needs, said she was not concerned about the Massachusetts ruling having any immediate effect on the Indiana marriage law, nor did she consider the contract inflexible.”Indiana would be at the end of the line on [changing the marriage law],” Gude said. “If and when the day ever came … [the contract] would probably change to specify that the marriage must be between a heterosexual couple.”As a Catholic institution, the University is required to uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church that does not grant or acknowledge gay marriage. This extends to University housing, as well.”The official doctrine of the Church is that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Gude. “The wording [of the contract] would have to be changed.”According to the mission statement of the Office of Resident Life and Housing, “The University encourages a way of living consonant with a Christian community and manifest in prayer, liturgy and service. Residential life endeavors to develop that sense of community that is at once more human and more divine.”Because homosexual couples could potentially live off campus together and keep their sexuality a secret from the University quite easily, the matter boils down to principle. Gay rights advocates seek to foster a community where homosexuals are free to be open with their lifestyle.But if such changes to the residence contract became necessary, the task would fall to General Counsel upon word from the University administration. Associate Vice President and Counsel Jill Bodensteiner said that, if the contract were to be changed, it wouldn’t necessarily take very long to complete.”The process [of changing a contract] could take a day or a year depending on its importance,” said Bodensteiner.Bodensteiner said that, as a private institution, the University is not bound by normal constitutional law. The anti-discrimination clause of the University, stated on the graduate policy contract, does not include a section on sexual orientation or lend itself to gay rights.”[As a private institution the University] cuts away on a lot of indirect freedoms,” said Cory Irwin, Notre Dame student and member on the Standing Committee for Gay and Lesbian Student Needs.Even if the contract loophole remained, gay advocates would have to seek an amendment to the non-discrimination clause which does not apply to homosexuals. However, the clause has been challenged before and was last rejected by the Board of Trustees in 1998.For Irwin, a change in the near future seems doubtful. “We basically haven’t been able to move on it. Even now, it would get shot down,” said Irwin. “A lot of that also has to do with publicity. Boston [College] is a Catholic school that did it and took a lot of criticism for it, and Notre Dame already has more of a conservative tradition than it does.”Irwin said that a change to the clause would have to be passed through the Board of Fellows, which is required to vote on certain policy changed. The Board consists of three priests and three laymen who already serve on the Board of Trustees.”For anything to pass, you have to have majority vote,” said Irwin.Gude said that part of the reason that the University didn’t adopt the sexual orientation section as part if its anti-discrimination clause was precisely to avoid getting caught in a situation that would place University policy and the Church position at odds with each other.In order for the University to smoothly adopt a sexual orientation section to its anti-discrimination clause it would have to be in response to a change in Church teaching. However, Gude acknowledged that the Church stance on homosexuality remains a controversial issue on which many Catholic academics remain divided.”Who knows in the future?” Gude said. “But you can imagine this is going to take sometime; the stance is founded on gospel,” Gude speculated that the Massachusetts ruling would take about four or five years for the courts to fully work through, and she emphasized that much remains unsettled.Indiana is one of 37 states that have laws prohibiting recognition of gay marriage. Of the 13 states without such a law, two are in the Midwest, Wisconsin and Ohio, eight are on the east coast and the remaining three are Wyoming, New Mexico and Oregon.