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Student Expelled Over Same-Sex Marriage Sues Seminary

February 19th, 2020

Students at Fuller Theological Seminary are being expelled if administrators learn they are married to someone of the same sex.
Students at Fuller Theological Seminary are being expelled if administrators learn they are married to someone of the same sex.

A student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California recently joined a lawsuit against the school alleging that the seminary is violating federal law by terminating students due to their same-sex marriages. This case acts as an example of the obstacles that many LGBTQ students face in educational settings despite what some view as a time of advancement for LGBTQ rights.

How the Lawsuit Arose

Nathan Brittsan, who is an American Baptist Churches USA minister in addition to being a Fuller student, was added to a lawsuit originally initiated by another student at the institute. Both students claim that they were expelled from the nondenominational evangelical Christian seminary when officials learned they had same-sex spouses.

The students were terminated because Fuller has a policy stating that marriage is a bond between one man and one woman and views homosexual conduct as inconsistent with Biblical scripture. Brittsan was informed of this policy in 2017, shortly before he began his first quarter at Fuller. Church officials learned of the marriage when he requested a name change on school records. While he at first attempted to appeal his expulsion, he later decided to withdraw.

The student who initiated the lawsuit is Joanna Maxon, who was expelled in 2018 shortly before she was finished with her graduate degree. Apparently, most of her classmates and professors knew of her same-sex marriage, but administrators found out through financial aid forms and then expelled her.

What the Lawsuit Claims

The lawsuit claims that Fuller violated Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. While the Obama administration viewed Title IX as applying to discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, the Trump administration has declined to extend Title IX to this type of discrimination. Courts, however, are still permitted to interpret Title IX as they see fit. Schools must comply with Title IX, but faith-based schools often receive exemptions to this requirement.

Response to the Case

The case has resulted in a range of commentary from various perspectives. The attorney who represents the students commented that the case is an important one in the country’s history and has the potential to lead to the creation of a legal precedent that if an educational institution receives federal funding, it will be required to comply with Title IX even if that school is religiously affiliated. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the attorney representing the seminary commented that the case involves religious freedom issues and poses the question of whether religious groups are permitted to decide how religious leaders are trained without the government’s intervention. 

Keep Informed With the Universal Life Church

The rights that LGBTQ people hold in this country remain uncertain. The first couple decades of the 21st century have seen several substantial advancements for LGBTQ individuals like the Obergefell decision, but there have more recently been several setbacks like the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. The issue of whether Title IX applies to gender and sex-based discrimination will likely remain open until it is resolved by the United States Supreme Court.

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