UH-Manoa should promptly stop discrimination of gays
A gay couple has filed a lawsuit against the University of Hawaii for being denied family housing.
When the state Legislature approved a bill three years ago to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, Gov. Linda Lingle warned that it was ambiguous. That might be true as the law applies to private dwellings, but it clearly prohibits discrimination in public housing. That is demonstrated by the validity of a lawsuit filed by a gay couple who were denied family housing at the University of Hawaii. Changes in UH policy are needed immediately to comply with state law.
History major Joseph O'Leary and his domestic partner, Phil Ngo, were approved for family housing at the Manoa campus in the 2006-07 school year but were denied it for the current school year. The UH housing brochure states that family housing is provided to "married couples," adding that "a marriage license may be requested."
Francisco Hernandez, the vice chancellor for students at UH-Manoa, said the lawsuit is "surprising and disappointing because UH-Manoa was already working on changing our housing policies to accommodate couples such as the plaintiffs and families in similar situations, and we are in the process of doing so." The university should have adopted such policies long ago to comply with state law.
The lawsuit says that O'Leary and Ngo are registered with the state Health Department as reciprocal beneficiaries, the legal term for same-sex couples eligible for partial marital rights. The university's denial of family housing to the couple violates state law, which defines a "university housing unit" as a dwelling for students, faculty or employees "and members of the families, including reciprocal beneficiaries of any such persons."
In addition, the Legislature approved a measure in 2005 banning discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation, exempting any religious institution or "religiously affiliated institution of higher education housing program." That exempts Brigham Young University-Hawaii and Chaminade University, but obviously not UH.
Lingle notified legislators that she intended to veto the bill, saying it "poses complex issues of application and enforcement given the ambiguous and vague nature of its language." However, in a strange twist, her written notification gave the wrong bill number so might have been ruled invalid. She ended up signing it into law.
While the law is clear regarding application and enforcement of the anti-discrimination law in university housing, it might be less clear as it applies to private housing. Lingle needs to clarify her concerns so changes, if needed, can be made to address requirements of landlords and real estate agents.
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