HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut's highest court upheld March 19 a ban on military recruitment at the University of Connecticut School of Law, ruling that the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on lesbians and gay men violates the state's human rights law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In a 3-to-2 ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz wrote "because the law school may not permit civilian employers to recruit on campus if they discriminate, it may not permit the military, which does so discriminate, to recruit on campus." The decision upheld a lower court ruling.
"This is a victory for the lesbian and gay students who were being unfairly disadvantaged by the military's discrimination," said Philip D. Tegeler, acting legal director at the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case with the national American Civil Liberties Union. "The ruling reinforces the role of universities to ensure equal educational opportunities for all their students."
The lawsuit was filed in 1992 on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Law Students Association at the university, charging that the school had violated the state's civil rights law by allowing an organization that discriminates to recruit on state property.
In July 1994, a Hartford Superior Court judge ruled that the school violated the state's 1991 law prohibiting state agencies, including educational institutions, from opening their facilities to discriminatory employers. That court permanently barred the school from letting the military to use the college's facilities to recruit. Since then, students wanting to join the military have had to go off- campus for their interviews.
Similar laws barring sexual orientation discrimination have also been passed in eight other states (California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin) and more than 150 municipalities nationwide.
"The ruling is particularly important because very few state high courts have applied gay rights laws in its decisions, and this one does it very strongly," said Marc Elovitz, staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.
The military's recruitment ban on lesbian and gay students has drawn protests on college campuses across the country. About a dozen universities and law schools have voluntarily barred the military from campus because of its anti-gay policy, while some schools -- like the University of Connecticut -- have been sued over allowing the recruitment programs to remain.
In New York, the state's highest court ruled in November 1993 that the city of Rochester could ban military recruiters from its schools because of the Pentagon's policy against lesbian and gay men.
"As long as the Pentagon continues to discharge able servicemembers for being gay, efforts will continue to get rid of the military ban and its harmful effects," said the ACLU's Elovitz.
"Although the ruling only applies to publicly-funded schools in Connecticut, it could be influential at universities elsewhere," added Elovitz. "It's another step towards ending one of the last bastions of government-sanctioned discrimination."