Last edited: January 25, 2005

Court Rejects Gay Morals Case, April 4, 2003

By Newscenter Staff

Salt Lake City, Utah—The Utah Supreme Court today rejected arguments that a lesbian high school teacher is morally unfit to hold her job.

The case had been brought by parents who claimed Wendy Weaver violated a state law requiring teachers to be moral models for their students. The lawsuit alleged that Weaver couldn’t be a good role model because her sexuality conflicted with state laws prohibiting sodomy.

The unanimous decision by the court ends a five year battle by Weaver to keep her job. Weaver has taught Spanish and psychology in Utah schools for 20 years.

She disclosed her sexuality when asked by curious Fork High School students in 1997.

The school subsequently barred her from talking about her sexuality in or out of the classroom. Weaver later won a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Nebo School District to have the requirement lifted.

Parents and students then tried to remove Weaver from her teaching position by complaining to the local school board, but the school district refused to fire the award-winning teacher.

The group then sued in state court, but Judge Ray Harding Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 1999. They then sought a declaration from the Supreme Court that Weaver was unfit to teach.

“They’re scared to have their kids see someone who is gay but who functions and is happy and they like,” said Weaver, who now goes by her unmarried name Wendy Chandler. “That doesn’t go with their perception that gay people are evil or unhealthy.”

ACLU of Utah lawyer Stephen Clark argued to the high court that what is at stake in this case is whether a group opposed to homosexuality should be able to use the heavy hand of the law, with its criminal and civil sanctions, to punish what they maintain is a moral and spiritual failure.

The court agreed. State law “does not grant a private right of action to students and parents of students to enforce statutory and regulatory requirements for public school employees,” the court said. “The students, former students, and parents of students before us on appeal lack a legally protectible interest.”

Disciplinary action and complaints must be handled by the Professional Practices Advisory Commission, the disciplinary arm of the state Board of Education, the court ruled.

“Questions about the proper role of the courts often arise at the intersection of ideological or cultural struggle and law. In this case, the Utah Supreme Court concluded that the courts couldn’t properly address and resolve what is essentially an ideological and cultural debate,” Clark said.

But the issue may not be over. Attorney Matthew Hilton, representing Weaver’s critics, said he would seek clarification from the State Office of Education about the requirement that teachers be good role models.

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