Court axes lawsuit over university's refusal to recognize gay group
A student's efforts to establish a gay and lesbian group at Seton Hall University, a Roman Catholic institution, suffered a setback Wednesday when a state appeals court dismissed his lawsuit. Anthony Romeo charged that the university's refusal to recognize the group violated the state law against discrimination, which bans bias based on sexual orientation. A three-judge panel, however, found that the law's exemption for religiously affiliated institutions applies to Seton Hall and that the school did not waive the exemption with its antidiscrimination policy.
Romeo lawyer Marianne F. Auriemma said they had hoped the court would limit the religious exemption. "Seton Hall is so secular in its nature that it is hiding behind that exemption," Auriemma said, noting the school receives state and federal funds and is part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. "As a taxpayer, I find it ridiculous that they say they are a religious institution," she said, adding that the exemption is better applied to a seminary or parochial high school.
Romeo and his lawyer will consider whether to have the case heard by the state supreme court, since the decision "relegates gay and lesbian students to second-class status, and that's unconscionable." A message seeking comment from Seton Hall was not immediately returned. Romeo's suit, filed in March 2004 when he was a sophomore, had initially been dismissed by a lower-court judge but was later reinstated, bringing the appeal from the South Orange, N.J.-based school, which is operated by the archdiocese of Newark. In an interview last year, Romeo, of Walton, N.Y., said it was unfair for Seton Hall to permit his group to sponsor educational events but not religious services or social activities. "Rosa Parks never sat in the middle of the bus," he said, in a nod to the civil rights figure. "It's not the same treatment that any other group gets."
Romeo submitted an application November 13, 2003, for TRUTH (Trust, Respect, Unity at the Hall), listing himself and 17 others as members. The group aim was to oppose discrimination and serve as a support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual students, the application said. It was denied on December 18, 2003; Laura A. Wankel, vice president for student affairs, wrote, "No organization based solely upon sexual orientation may receive formal university recognition," even though the Student Organization Activities Committee recommended approval.
Wankel in her decision wrote that the church directs us to care for the human person whose fundamental identity is as a " 'child of God'--not as a 'heterosexual' or a 'homosexual.' " She added a "memorandum of understanding" that would allow the group to operate on campus but with the stipulation that the administration would have to agree to the group's name. Accepting the guidelines meant the group "will neither seek nor expect formal recognition by the university or elsewhere," the memo said. (AP)