Originally published on Advocate.com October 24 2003 12:00 AM ET
The University of Alabama faculty senate voted to add sexual orientation to the types of discrimination covered by the university's equal opportunity and nondiscrimination policies. The senators voted 28-10 on Tuesday to ask UA president Robert Witt to add the phrase after debate that the words "sexual orientation" were too ambiguous. Groups including the Christian Coalition of Alabama opposed the resolution. The faculty resolution is worded similarly to ones passed in September by the student government senate and the UA System board of trustees. It states that "discrimination based upon sexual orientation is condemned, and that any systems and practices embodying such discrimination must be dismantled." Business professor Bruce Barrett said he feared the wording could imply the
university promotes sodomy, pedophilia, and intergenerational sex. "There is enough ambiguity in the language to add all sorts of interpretation," he said. But law professor Wythe Holt, who wrote the resolution, said the term "sexual orientation" does not refer to illegal sexual practices.
To allay those fears, the senators voted to clarify the resolution by adopting the academic definition of "sexual orientation," which includes heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals. Several noted that illegal activities were not under discussion in the resolution. "If a faculty member chooses to go for young boys and young girls and is a perfectly good faculty member and doesn't act on his desires, that is not a matter" for the university or faculty senate to get involved in, faculty senate vice president Matthew Winston said.
John Giles, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, said the resolution was unnecessary because state law already prohibits discrimination. "This resolution is not about discrimination," he told the Crimson White student newspaper. "This resolution is about incrementally trying to move toward special rights and benefits [for] a segment of the population based on sexual orientation." In a letter to university officials, Giles said the resolution contains "dangerous and reckless language" open to broad interpretation, such as the call for dismantling "undefined 'systems and practices."' Giles also said the resolution conflicts with state legislation that prohibits same-sex marriage. But student government executive vice president Joshua Silberberg said neither the student resolution nor the faculty resolution mentions the word "marriage."