PCUSA seminary will allow same-sex couples to live in married student housing
The Layman , August 28, 2012
A Georgia-based Presbyterian Church (USA) seminary will allow same-sex student couples to live in campus housing designated for married students following a year-long effort by gay-rights advocates.
A housing task force at Columbia Theological Seminary recently established the following new policy:
“Students, their qualified domestic partners (e.g. those in civil marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships as established by the laws of any state, the United States or a foreign jurisdiction), and their children are eligible to live in campus housing. Appeals may be made to the CTS Housing Committee.”
The change comes following the seminary’s denial of a housing request last spring to a lesbian couple. The ensuing protest led to a discussion among student councils, the administration and the school’s board of directors and culminated in an e-mail sent to students by President Stephen Hayner on April 20, 2012 stating: “the decision was made not to change the policy at this time.”
“Faculty were upset. Students were upset. Alumni were upset,” wrote blogger Patrick David Heery “People started organizing discussions, letter writing campaigns, and prayer vigils,” he added.
Hayner sent another e-mail three days later stating that a process of discussion would continue.
At the center of the debate stood Imago Dei, Columbia’s “gay-straight student alliance.” The group claims that some people decided not to attend Columbia due to the old housing policy.
Imago Dei urged students to circulate a petition. According to Heery, the petition “only led to an eruption of hurt and anger” and an appeal to the school’s student government council “broke into a divisive debate and further hurt.”
Heery said that in 2011, Imago Dei “gave [the administration] a year” to address the policy but did not state what the organization had planned if the policy had not been changed.
The organization urged students to send letters and e-mails in favor of a same-sex policy to seminary officials. The group also urged members to organize churches and other seminaries as well as LGBT organizations to advocate the change.
This past May, the 450-student seminary established a 13-member housing commission to review the standards.
“The mandate for the commission was to establish a fair and administrable housing policy which will serve all of our students and be in accord with the ethical standards of our community,” the commission’s statement reads.
According to the PCUSA-backed Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, five other PCUSA seminaries allow same-sex couples to live in campus housing: Austin, McCormick, Louisville, San Francisco and Princeton.
According to a recent statement by Hayner to The Layman, no same-gender couples have qualified under the new policy currently and the school has no applications.
“The responses which I have personally received within the seminary community have been very positive,” Hayner said. “This is not to say that there is agreement about the definition of marriage, or about any number of other issues surrounding human sexuality among our constituents, any more than there is agreement in and among our churches. But our community is committed to being a place of open theological and Biblical inquiry and hospitality for all who attend.”
Currently, six states in the U.S. recognize same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. Five states recognize civil unions while four states and the District of Columbia recognize domestic partnerships.