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ACLU Presses Forward in Unprecedented Lawsuit Charging Yeshiva University with Anti-Gay Housing Discrimination

NEW YORK -- The first lawsuit in the nation seeking equal housing rights for lesbian and gay university students and their partners were heard by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court on April 19, as the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Case continues pushing for a trial in the case.

The lawsuit was initially filed against Yeshiva University and the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in June 1998, but was dismissed last year. In court today in Manhattan, ACLU attorneys will argue that the case must go forward, because Yeshiva’s ban on lesbian and gay graduate students living with their partners is discriminatory and violates New York city and state laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status.

Conservative State Supreme Court Justice Franklin Weissberg dismissed the lawsuit last year, agreeing with Yeshiva’s contention that lesbian and gay people are not treated unfairly because they are allowed to live in student housing albeit without their partners. Weissberg also agreed with Yeshiva that campus housing does fall under New York’s Roommate Law.

Last night, in anticipation of today’s court arguments, scores of students set up a "tent city" outside Yeshiva’s campus housing facility, and slept out overnight to call on Yeshiva to end its policy against lesbian and gay couples. Medical students Sara Levin and Maggie Jones, the plaintiffs in the case against Yeshiva, spoke to students and joined the "shelter strike." Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered student group, which is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, joined Levin and Jones.

"City and state law simply does not allow this type of discrimination against lesbian and gay couples, and Yeshiva’s refusal to comply with the law forces us to continue pursuing legal action," said Michael Adams, Associate Director of the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "We are optimistic that this lawsuit will move forward, and we are looking forward to these students having their day in court."

Levin, who will attend today’s court arguments, said Yeshiva’s policy against lesbian and gay couples forces her to live in Brooklyn with her partner of eight years, Carla Richmond. Levin’s commute to Einstein’s campus at 185th Street in the Bronx takes three hours. Market-rate apartments in the campus area are about twice the rate of campus housing, which ranges from about $330 a month for a studio to $767 for a two-bedroom penthouse apartment.

In 1989, Einstein’s student/faculty senate passed a resolution asking for housing and other benefits for lesbian and gay couples, but Yeshiva President Norman Lamm refused to approve the change. According to news reports, Rabbi Lamm has said that "under no circumstances can Judaism permit homosexuality to become respectable."

Despite its origins as a religious school, Einstein like all divisions of Yeshiva except its Rabbinical school is today a secular institution open to students of all religions. But the school’s policy restricts campus housing to students and their spouses with children, and states that "married couples, regardless of their position on the Waiting List, receive priority" for apartments, after providing "acceptable proof of marriage."

Besides Yeshiva, Columbia University and the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center are the only universities in New York City that offer housing to married couples, and the only ones whose policies include domestic (same-sex or heterosexual) partners.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charges that Yeshiva’s policy violates the New York State Human Rights Law, the Administrative Code of New York City and the Roommate Law of the New York Real Property Law.

The case is Levin v. Yeshiva University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.


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