A Catholic student group at Georgetown University that promotes the benefits of traditional marriage risks losing its funding and other university benefits after being accused of fostering hatred and intolerance.
Love Saxa advocates for marriage as “a monogamous and permanent union between a man and a woman,” the group states in its constitution. That definition of marriage happens to be in line with that espoused by the Catholic Church, raising the question of how administrators at Georgetown, the United States’ oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning, will handle the controversy if it eventually comes before them.
“I suppose the question for Georgetown is whether they think Catholic kids can still be Catholic there,” said Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America.
About half of the student body identifies as Catholic, according to the university. Seventy-five percent of Catholics ages 18 to 29 favor same-sex marriage, compared with 22 percent who oppose it, according to the Pew Research Center.
Two students lodged a complaint against Love Saxa, arguing that the group’s definition of marriage violates university standards governing sanctioned student groups and demanding that it be defunded and removed as an officially sanctioned student group. The complaint stops short of calling for the group to be banned. Student organizations, per university rules, are ineligible for funding and other benefits if they “foster hatred or intolerance of others because of their race, nationality, gender, religion or sexual preference.”
The complaint, filed this month by Jasmin Ouseph, a junior from Fort Lauderdale, and Chad Gasman, a sophomore from Los Angeles, argues that Love Saxa’s definition of marriage excludes and dehumanizes individuals in the LGBTQ community.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday before the Student Activities Commission. While the decision on whether or not to sanction the group will be made by the student-run commission, Love Saxa can take the issue up to the university administration on appeal.
For now, the university appears to see no conflict between its own values and those of Love Saxa.
“As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, Georgetown listens deeply and discerningly to the plurality of voices that exist among our students, faculty, and staff and is committed to the care of each member of our community,” said Rachel Pugh, a university spokesperson.
“We strongly support a climate that continues to provide students with new and deeper contexts for engaging with our Catholic tradition and identity,” Pugh added. “Love Saxa is one of many groups operating on campus with positions that affirm the teachings of the Catholic Church. We also support a climate that is welcoming to all students and supporting of our LGBTQ communities.”
“Our Catholic and Jesuit identity … certainly affirms Love Saxa’s existence,” said Rev. Mark Bosco, the vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown.
Amelia Irvine, a junior from Phoenix, Ariz., and the president of Love Saxa, said she was taken aback by the accusations but insists the group is in the right. Love Saxa, which has about 30 active members, “promote[s] healthy relationships on campus through cultivating a proper understanding of sex, gender, marriage, and family” among students through hosting discussions, lectures, and campaigns and other activities, according to the group’s website.
Irvine had penned an op-ed in the Hoya student newspaper early last month, titled “Confessions of a College Virgin,” in which she broadly discussed chastity and abstinence but also defended Love Saxa’s definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples.
“We’re not trying to shame anyone for their choices or their decisions or who they are,” she said. “We’re trying to promote what we think healthy relationships are, what we think sexual integrity is.”
“I do believe we’re in the right,” Irvine added. “We’re called Love Saxa. We’re not about hatred or making people feel less than they are.”
Others, however, think the group is discriminatory, intolerant and hateful.
Love Saxa’s promotion of heterosexual marriage discriminates against queer relationships and is homophobic, said Gasman, the president of Georgetown University Pride, told the Hoya.
“When they deny certain individuals who are queer access to this ideal standard of a relationship, they immediately say that all queer relationships are not as valid as heterosexual relationships,” said Gasman. “They also specifically call homosexuality and any non-heterosexual view a distorted view of human sexuality which is directly homophobic.”
Georgetown often claims to be the most queer-friendly Catholic university in the nation, yet it continues to fund groups such as Love Saxa that are intolerant of homosexual and queer relationships, Gasman said.
The complaint will “force Georgetown University to actually be queer-friendly and queer-affirming,” Gasman said.
“[I]f the university continues to recognize Love Saxa and provide it with official access to benefits after this whole situation, I think it may cause me to question what values the university actually stands for,” said Ouseph.
Last Friday, the Hoya’s independent editorial board sided with the complaint, calling on the university to “Defund Intolerance.”
“Love Saxa does not deserve the benefit of university recognition. As a group whose mission advocates against equal rights for the LGBTQ community, Love Saxa fosters intolerance,” the board wrote, adding that the group is “antithetical to what a university club should be.”
The editorial board also argued that while other campus Catholic organizations may share Love Saxa’s definition of marriage, Love Saxa differentiates itself “by actively and vigorously promoting this definition — one that is directly intolerant of the LGBTQ community.”
Irvine, however, said that she is stumped as to why Love Saxa has been singled out.
“I would expect something like this at a public school or an areligious school,” she said. “It’s surprising to me … all the Jesuits have the same idea of marriage as us, [and] no one is accusing them of promoting hatred.”
Irvine agrees with the group’s accusers that next week’s hearing will be a litmus test for how tolerant the university community really is.
“If we cannot safely advocate for beliefs synonymous with Catholic social teaching, then no group at Georgetown can be certain of its security,” Love Saxa said in a statement on Facebook.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the vice president for mission and ministry at Georgetown. This version has been corrected.