The Supreme Court yesterday cleared the way for homosexual student groups to receive equal treatment from Georgetown University, rejecting the university's request for a stay of a D.C. appeals court ruling in favor of the students.

The court, with no justice dissenting, issued a brief order setting aside orders last month by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist that temporarily blocked the Nov. 20 appeals court ruling.

Yesterday's action, which was not a ruling on the merits of the case, means that Georgetown now will be required to carry out the D.C. court ruling to provide gay groups with mailing privileges, party rooms and the right to seek university funds.

Georgetown had asked the high court to stay the order pending appeal, saying compliance would "violate its conscience" as a Roman Catholic institution. Catholic teachings condemn homosexual acts.

The D.C. court's opinion said the city's Human Rights Act fulfilled a "compelling governmental interest" in eliminating "sexual orientation discrimination" that outweighed Georgetown's right to religious freedom under the First Amendment.

The appeals court, however, said the act did not require that the university offer "official recognition" to the gay groups, but it must give them the same "tangible benefits" as recognized student groups.

A Georgetown spokesman said yesterday that the university "will certainly implement" the appeals court ruling, but "we will do that under protest." Georgetown's board of directors, he said, will decide later whether to appeal the D.C. court decision to the Supreme Court.

Even if the university decides to appeal, and if the high court decides to review the substance of the appeals court ruling, the university could be required to offer the equal treatment for up to 18 months. The high court's docket for this term is nearly full, making it unlikely that the case could be considered before next fall or that a decision could be rendered before the spring of 1989.

Richard A. Gross, a lawyer for the gay student groups, said that "our view is that after eight years there is no further obstacle to obtaining equal tangible benefits at the university for gay organizations."

A decision on how to enforce the appeals court ruling now rests with D.C. Superior Court Judge Sylvia Bacon, who handled the case at the trial level. Gross said he invited Georgetown's lawyers to meet today to discuss the exact terms of the enforcement order that Bacon would be asked to enter.

The two sides appear to differ on how extensive the requirement for equal treatment is under the appeals court's 171-page decision. Georgetown has indicated that it feels the ruling covers only specific areas, such as use of a university mailbox, computer label services and the right to apply for funding on the same basis as other student groups.

The gay groups, in a draft order prepared for the trial court, said the university should be required to treat gay groups exactly like every other group and "to provide access to any tangible facilities, benefits, privileges and services, including funding opportunities . . . {without regard} to the sexual orientation of any student or group of students."

Gross said that if the appeals court ruling stands, Georgetown also will be liable for "attorneys' fees well in excess of a half-million dollars and damages of $400 each to up to several hundred gay students" who attended during the eight-year battle.

Shortly after the appeals court ruling in November, the university's president, the Rev. Timothy S. Healy, told the D.C. government that the school would comply and urged quick city approval of a $127 million tax-exempt bond issue for Georgetown.

After the city indicated it could not act as quickly as Georgetown had requested, the university's executive committee reversed Healy and voted to seek a stay pending formal appeal to the high court. Georgetown failed last month in its efforts to bypass the city and have Congress directly authorize the bond issue.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the court's only Georgetown graduate, did not participate in yesterday's action, but gave no reason for not voting. Georgetown would have needed the votes of four of the seven participating justices to continue the temporary stay that Rehnquist had entered.

Rehnquist had referred the stay request to the full court.