For the first time in U.S. history, the majority of states have lifted their ban on same-sex marriage. According to the organization Freedom to Marry, 30 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized same-sex marriages, and in an additional five states having “federal appellate rulings have set a binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the freedom to marry there.” Naturally, the controversial progress has met with some opposition, but the momentum is building. The separation of church and state forbids the denial of legal rights based on religious beliefs. With that in mind, to oppose the constitutionality of same-sex marriage for religious reasons is a legalistically flawed argument. Every person is entitled to disagree with another’s lifestyle and can do so based upon anything, including religion. However, that disagreement or disapproval is not accompanied by the right to deny fellow human beings their legal and social equality. The argument that it does is dangerously reminiscent of arguments made by supremacists of the past.
Associated Students of Whitworth University recently conducted a survey related to LGBT rights. The survey asked students whether or not they felt sexual orientation should be added to the list of protected identities for faculty and staff. Of the 468 respondents, 65 percent agreed or strongly agreed that sexual orientation should be added to the list of protected identities for Whitworth faculty and staff. Additionally, 70.1 percent of respondents answered yes when asked if they would be willing to sign a petition in support of adding sexual orientation to the list of protected identities. Students at Whitworth are already protected from discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, according to the 2013-2014 Student Handbook (page 37).
“The survey is a first step, gauging student opinions. 468 isn’t enough to represent every student’s opinion, but it’s a starting point for us,” ASWU President Ian Robins said.
ASWU is in the process of planning an informational forum to clarify any questions from students, staff and faculty about the current protected identities policy, and it will likely occur within the first two weeks of November. The topic of sexual orientation is a recurring one in ASWU, but the last time it went so far as a survey was in the 2001-2002 school year, Robins said. At Whitworth and abroad, active measures need to be taken to create a secure atmosphere for constructive interactions regarding gender and sexual orientation.
“ASWU has advocated for diversity among Whitworth faculty. Diversity in color, race, gender—it’s all important, because students want to identify with their professors. LGBT students cannot identify with faculty or staff currently because they do not have the security to be open,” Robins said.
Protecting the personal and occupational security of LGBT faculty and staff would perform the same function as other diversity traits. Students that identify as LGBT or that know LGBT individuals would benefit from having professors who could safely discuss it from a personal perspective.
Furthermore, the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently passed a vote which enables Presbyterian ministers to officiate same-sex marriages in states that allow them, according to the Washington Post. As a Presbyterian-affiliated university, Whitworth would not violate its Christian alignment by adding gender and sexual orientation to the list of protected identities for faculty and staff. At last, Whitworth could treat LGBT members like the equal human beings they are by formally providing LGBT members equal labor rights.
Where does that leave us? Between the community support implied by the survey, the additional diversity traits students could connect with professors over and the fact that Whitworth would not violate its Presbyterian affiliation by protecting LGBT staff and faculty from discrimination, the next step should be to make the reform a reality.
Contact Matthew Boardman at firstname.lastname@example.org