LGBTQ Supreme Court

Supremes, Gay Rights and Christian Campus Clubs


On Monday, the Supreme Court heard the case of the Christian Legal Society v. Martinez.
You remember this case. It is about whether the UC Hastings College of the Law has the right to yank funding and school support from an on campus group called the Christian Legal Society because the CLS excludes gays from becoming voting members or officers of the group.. More specifically, it excludes anyone down for “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle,” which CLS defines as (among other things) “all acts of sexual conduct outside of God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman, which acts include fornication, adultery and homosexual conduct.” Like I said, gays.

As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick explains it:

Hastings advised CLS that because its ban on gay and nonbelieving leaders and officers violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy, the group could still operate but would not be treated as one of about 70 registered student organizations, with access to school funding, facilities, e-mail, and bulletin boards. CLS sued, Hastings won in the lower federal court and again at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Yet, lest those of you reading this rush rapidly to your habitual ideological corners, Lithwick also points out that, if we are to consider the case fairly, it will require thinking outside left/right parameters. Unfortunately, says Lithwick, that’s not at all what the Supremes did.

This is an unbelievably hard case, pitting a religious group’s basic right to define and preserve its core beliefs against a publicly funded university’s effort to ensure that school-sponsored and -funded groups do not discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. But judging from the ideological zeal of today’s battle, you’d think the case was open-and-shut. The liberals are for nondiscrimination. The conservatives are certain that liberals plan to infiltrate unpopular Christian groups for nefarious purposes. If there was any hugging, I missed it entirely.

The NY Times Adam Liptak, on the other hand, sees CLS v. Martinez as one of a couple of upcoming proxy cases testing the water for the 900-pound gorilla of a case regarding gay rights that will be plopping on SCOTUS’ collective desk a few years from now: Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

Plus there is this other case, next week, writes Liptak:

The divide between the two sides is even starker in the case to be argued next week, Doe v. Reed, No. 09-559. The question there is whether Washington State’s open records law violates the free speech rights of people who signed ballot petitions by requiring their names to be made public. Some of those people say they fear retaliation and harassment from advocates of same-sex marriage.

(Read on for a further preview of that intriguing case.)

And, for those of you who simply want to know what went on in court today with regard to the CLS/Hastings case, here’s Nina Totenberg.



Tuesday morning, in a 9-1 decision (Alito the hold out), the Supreme Court ruled that videos depicting animals being illegally killed or tortured are protected under the First Amendment. The LA Times has the rest of the story.


  • IMHO here’s the problem. If the SCOTUS says that a christian group must allow gays in their “group”, that means gays have to allow christians in their “group”. So the gays infiltrate the christian group. Big deal. Then the christians infiltrate the gay group. Big deal. Pretty soon you end up with one of two things.
    #1. Gays and christians at odds in both groups
    #2. The christian group is now run by gays, and the gay group is now run by christians.
    Now you’re right back where you started.
    Believe me, if there’s a way around a court decision college kids are the ones who will find it and exploit it.

  • I think the LA Times makes the case pretty well in favor of the Christian group, but this whole thing strikes me as very political.

    It’s instructive, as is so often the case, to look at our history with interracial marriage. It was once a fundamental tenet of many (white) Christian groups that black people and white people should not intermarry. Likewise, today it is the belief of many (straight) Christian groups that gays should not marry. There is a significant parallel here yet since anti-miscegenation is outdated and widely seen as racist while anti-gay attitudes are acceptable, many reasonable people want to treat them differently. This is politics, not law.

    What if a group of white students formed an organization that was only for whites and blacks who renounced interracial marriage? This meets the “belief not status” test but is currently a very unpopular view. I suppose it’s possible we’d have four conservative justices supporting the right of public school students to use public resources to promote anti-miscegenation but I doubt it. Looks like politics to me.

    Obviously there are other legal question at play here and if the court decides on those grounds then my view might be different, regardless of the decision.

  • Why would any person want to join a group that espouses beliefs that are categorically opposed to their own beliefs?

    Gay advocacy groups should not have to allow christians into their org. if they choose not to.

  • If 100 Jews, 500 christians and 100 Mormons show up at a meeting of the USC Muslim Student Union and want to join, how is that going to work out?

  • “Why would any person want to join a group that espouses beliefs that are categorically opposed to their own beliefs?”

    There may be a debate about if that group should have that belief – especially if it’s not a central one. For instance, what if the college Republicans don’t like Sarah Palin and refuse to endorse her for pres even after she wins the hypothetical Repub nomination in 2012. Now other Republicans join in the hope of changing the group’s official position. Similarly, there are gay Christians and Christians who support gay marriage and they could want to join the group as Christians who disagree with current members on one important issue.

    Your hypothetical situation w/ the Muslim student union was addressed, somewhat unsatisfyingly in my opinion, in oral argument. The lawyer for Hastings argues that:
    A. That has never happened and isn’t a major concern
    B. You can require a demonstration of knowledge or use “merit” to determine who can join a group, weeding out troublemakers
    C. Unsatisfied members could always reform under a different name
    I’ll add D. Unsatisfied members could form an exclusive, anti-whomever group if they don’t take public resources

  • I haven’t read all of this (surprised?), but the Constitution requires government to be neutral on religion — not hostile to it, especially one particular belief.

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