A lesbian couple alleges that O'Hara Catholic School in Eugene, Ore., refused admission to their 4-year-old daughter because of their sexual orientation. The couple has complained to the Eugene Human Rights Commission and the Oregon Child Care Division. One of the women, Lee Inkmann, said O'Hara principal Dianne Bert told her in mid August that having a family with two mothers at the school would confuse other children and that gay unions are in conflict with Vatican teachings.
Bert did not immediately return telephone messages Friday seeking comment. O'Hara issued a statement saying the school does not discriminate on the basis of "race, color, national and ethnic origin" in admissions but that it "cannot comment on decisions of academic placement for any specific student." The Reverend Mark Bachmeier of St. Mary's Catholic Church, the parish priest who oversees O'Hara, is also refusing to discuss the matter. "I think we'll just let that statement speak for itself for now, "he said.
Bud Bunce, spokesman for the archdiocese of Portland, said there are multiple factors involved in not accepting the child, but he said he could not discuss the specific reasons the girl was not admitted. "The school did not make the nontraditional lifestyle of the parents the issue; the parent did," he added.
The Human Rights Commission assigned an advocate, Neil Van Steenbergen, to the case with the hope of ironing things out between the two parties. But O'Hara officials did not wish to meet with him, Inkmann said. On Wednesday, she said, Bachmeier told her the final answer was no.
The city's ordinance prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, city contracting, and public accommodation on the basis of a list of characteristics, including actual or perceived sexual orientation. Whether a private school falls under the mantle of "public accommodation" is open to interpretation, but Dave Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon American Civil Liberties Union, says it should. A Catholic school, he said, "is essentially a business that provides service to the public at large."