Lawyers for both sides in a suit alleging discrimination by Georgetown University against homosexuals ended their arguments yesterday after seven days of often bitter jousting in D.C. Superior Court.
Attorneys for the university argued that it is a religious institution, and as such is "free to discriminate" by denying two homosexual student groups university funds and official recognition. Attorneys for the two groups accused Georgetown of inconsistency and "doubletalk."
The two groups sued the university in April 1980 after it denied them the right to receive university funds or use certain school facilities for campus activities. They won a ruling last March by a Superior Court judge, who concluded that the university violated the city's 1977 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on "sexual orientation."
The issue now before Judge Sylvia Bacon involves Georgetown's assertion that, as a Roman Catholic institution, it is free under the First Amendment to discriminate and is exempt from the Human Rights Act.
Georgetown has allowed the homosexual groups to meet on campus and has allowed members to graduate from the university. But it has denied the group official recognition on the grounds that Georgetown, as a Catholic institution, cannot endorse homosexual activities.
In closing arguments Monday and yesterday, William McDaniel, one of the school's lawyers, said recognition by the school, which he maintained "has been, is and always will be a Catholic institution," would be "fundamentally in contradiction with the teachings of the Catholic Church."
McDaniel compared Georgetown's policy toward the groups to its policies against cohabitation on campus and its prohibition of abortions in the university hospital, arguing that the school has a "right to determine what is and is not an appropriate campus activity."
Ronald Bogard, one of the attorneys for the student groups, accused university president Timothy S. Healy and other university officials who testified in the suit of "doubletalk" when they said that university recognition of the homosexual groups would mean endorsement of those groups.
Bogard said it is discriminatory for Georgetown to deny recognition of homosexual groups, but to grant such recognition to women's and Jewish groups that also do not adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Bogard said that in 1906, when Georgetown "wanted money from a deceased donor," the school's lawyers argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that Georgetown was not a religious institution. "But when it comes to avoiding a civil rights statute," he said, Georgetown is "suddenly sectarian."
Bacon did not indicate when she would issue an opinion.
The case is the first test of the "sexual orientation" protections afforded by the Human Rights Act. Most observers believe that however Bacon rules, her decision likely will be appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.