Virginia colleges: Just say 'no' to Cuccinelli
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the new attorney general of Virginia, had no actionable legal item that forced him to wade into the issue of sexual orientation on public college campuses.
But he was obviously itching to do it so badly that he sent Virginia's public colleges and universities a letter telling them they could no longer include gays and lesbians in anti-discriminatory employment policies. For schools that have such policies, his March 4 letter said, the language should be removed.
The proof of his “itchiness” is the clumsy way he started his letter to all presidents, rectors, and visitors (the term used for people who effectively serve as trustees of Virginia’s public colleges and universities):
Several inquiries recently have been made regarding the authority of public colleges and universities to approve inclusion of “sexual orientation,” gender identity,” “gender expression,” or like classifications in the non-discrimination policies of the respective institution.
He then explains that such language should be removed because the schools have, apparently, exceeded their legal rights in creating a protected class, something that Cuccinelli’s predecessors apparently, allowed to slip through their legal fingers.
How interesting that “several inquiries” took his time away from the things that his Web site says are his key issues:
Sex Offenders & Registry, Seniors/TRIAD, Family Internet Safety, Computer Crimes, Identity Theft, Domestic Violence, Class Action, Gangs, Methamphetamines, Victim Notification, Property Rights, Terrorism/Commonwealth Preparedness, Government & Regulatory Reform Task Force, Youth Internet Safety Task Force.
How unfortunate that Virginia’s attorney general wants to turn back the clock on civil rights for gays just at the time when the District of Columbia and Maryland are taking a step forward. The nation’s capital has just starting issuing marriage licenses for gay couples, and Maryland’s attorney general recently announced that his state will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The only good news here is that after Cuccinelli’s letter was made public, the Virginia governor’s office felt the need to quickly respond to the criticism that began raining down. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, issued a statement suggesting that no action will be taken against schools that do not follow Cuccinelli’s advice, my colleage Rosalind Helderman reported.
Even if a real threat of action emerges, Virginia’s institutions of higher education have an obligation to themselves, and the country, to reject these efforts.
There are, of course, practical effects of telling gays and lesbians that they aren’t covered under anti-discriminatory policies. Try recruiting a gay professor after that. Alumni and supporters who find Cuccinelli’s effort abhorrent would likely send their contributions elsewhere.
But the main reason schools shouldn’t rescind policies that protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation is that it is just wrong.
Institutions of higher education are at their core places where America's most profound ideals--freedom of thought and speech and respect for the rights of individuals and their differences--should always be on display. That's what makes Cuccinelli's letter particularly obscene.
Virginia's schools should just say "no."
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| March 7, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories: Higher Education | Tags: cuccinelli letter, higher education
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