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Anti-discrimination resolution debated

Claire Reising | Thursday, March 20, 2008

Student Senate resumed discussion on a resolution that proposes to add sexual orientation to Notre Dame’s non-discrimination clause.

The Senate, however, could not vote on the resolution at yesterday’s meeting because not enough members were present for quorum.

The proposed resolution supports this change in the non-discrimination clause for several reasons. It states that the Catechism of the Catholic Church opposes discrimination of homosexual persons. The resolution further claims that other American Catholic Colleges, such as Georgetown and Kings College have added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination clauses.

Although the senators did not vote yesterday, several controversies arose in the discussion, such as possible ramifications of a non-discrimination clause and the necessity of Student Senate’s involvement in the issue.

Fisher senator Stephen Bant and Keenan senator Gus Gari debated over the legitimacy of the resolution.

Bant disagreed with the resolution, arguing that it may be seen as an endorsement of homosexual activity and cause the Church and donors to criticize the University.

“The University enacting this kind of policy has a lot of unforeseen … negative repercussions that we can’t even begin to imagine,” he said. “It’s going to upset people, whether we like it or not.”

Gari argued back, saying that senators should not let donors’ opinions control their actions.

“As far as bishops [or alumni donors] getting mad at us, I don’t think that should be taken into consideration,” he said. “I think that as student leaders, we should be exercising our own independent thought and judgment.”

Additionally, Bant feared that a nondiscrimination clause would open the University to liability, increasing the possibility of a lawsuit against Notre Dame for discriminating someone based on sexual orientation.

“I don’t think that the University is actually is going to be sued for actively discriminating against people, but I think people can use loopholes and use things given to them to make cases out of things that were not the issue,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, it’s the way the American legal system works, but it’s true, and it can happen.”

Some members did not want liability to be the Senate’s main concern.

Outgoing chief executive assistant Sheena Plamoottil said she believed that supporting the Church’s teachings on tolerance and fighting for minorities on campus are more important goals.

“I think it’s dangerous to think that liability should be the most important issue here,” she said. “Even more than liability, tolerance should be thought about.”

Currently, Notre Dame abides by “The Spirit of Inclusion,” which was set forth by du Lac and is not legally binding, according to Molloy. This clause, according to O’Neill senator Matt Molloy, condemns harassment of any kind.

The proposed resolution states that adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clause would give legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to Molloy.

Molloy, who co-drafted the resolution with Pangborn senator Denise Baron, said that the issue first arose in 1998 when both the Faculty and Student Senates passed a similar resolution. The administration did not change the non-discrimination clause.

Although the Student Senate already had passed resolutions about the non-discrimination clause, Molloy said that the current senate must show that it still supports the issue.

“We want to be able to take to [the administration] a recently-passed resolution to say that we still care about this,” he said.

Bant said that passing another resolution is a “complete waste of [the Senate’s] time” and did not believe that the Senate would have much influence.

“We did it last year and it was also done in 1998, and nothing happened,” he said. “I think that it’s a little na’ve to believe that passing a similar resolution today will have any different effect than it did last year.”

Howard senator Erdina Francillon said that despite the administration’s lack of support, the Senate has the responsibility to support Notre Dame’s minorities and to fight for this resolution until its goal is fulfilled.

“I think that the strongest act that we as a Senate can take is to pass this every year… until we get the attention of the administration, get the attention of the Church, so people in higher positions than we are can realize that this is an issue we care about,” she said. “We should take that rejection as a challenge.”

Francillon also said she was disappointed that the Senate did not vote on the resolution when Molloy and Baron introduced in at the February 27 meeting. The Senate had voted to amend the resolution after Bant said he found that Holy Cross College does not include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause as the amendment says.

Molloy said that after further research was inconclusive, the Senate replaced Holy Cross College with Georgetown University. However, Baron said that the amended clause “was not the crux of the resolution.”

The Senate plans to vote on this resolution at next week’s meeting, which will be the last meeting of the current term.