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June 17, 2011

Ohio budget would allow student groups to bar gays

Columbus--A provision in the state budget, now on the governor’s desk, would allow school-funded organizations at state universities to exclude members and leaders based on conduct and religious beliefs, contrary to a Supreme Court decision last year.

Last year’s Christian Legal Society v. Martinez found that the University of California’s Hastings College of Law could require that school-funded organizations accept all comers; the Christian Legal Society argued that allowing gays was counter to the organization’s core beliefs.

The measure inserted into the budget was designed to contravene such “all comers” policies.

Ohio State University has such a policy, although its chapter of the Christian Legal Society accepted the change warmly, saying that it was “yet one more opportunity to welcome all students to attend CLS’s meetings and activities.”

The Ohio House’s version of the budget allows groups to bar voting members and leaders, while the Senate version allows barring members, voting members and leaders. It is expected to easily make it through conference committee before going to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

It is there, believes Equality Ohio executive director Ed Mullen, that the measure stands the best chance of being removed before making it into the Ohio Revised Code.

“One of the first executive orders he signed prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public hiring,” Mullen noted. “While he left off the transgender piece, he has not done anything to indicate this is something he would support.”

While he believes that some groups will decide to use the measure as validation for discriminatory policies, it is not likely to lead to widespread ejections of LGBT people from student organizations.

“I don’t think you’re going to see debate teams or chess clubs all of a sudden deciding to discriminate of the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” he noted, although he also posited that it could backfire on conservative Christians.

“An atheist group could ban Christians from their meetings,” Mullen said.

“I think right now the most effective thing to do would be call the governor’s office, because the governor has the power to do a line-item veto of things in the budget he does not agree with,” Mullen said. “The only way there’s really going to be a change in the final budget is if the governor decides to do a line-item veto.”

However, even if Kasich declines to use his veto power, there is a good chance that CLS v. Martinez would haunt the legislation.

“I think there is a strong argument that it violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, and I think a lot of the language in the Christian Legal Society case last summer supports that, but it will almost certainly lead to litigation,” Mullen posited.

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