ACLU of Utah Applauds State Supreme Court Decision to Uphold the Rights of Lesbian High School Teacher

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
April 4, 2003 12:00 am

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Supreme Court today issued a unanimous ruling that brings to an end a five-year legal battle over the proper role of the courts in determining whether lesbians and gay men can be fit role models and otherwise participate as full citizens in our society.

The plaintiffs in the case, a group of Utah County citizens, had sought declarations that because Wendy Weaver is a lesbian, she is unfit to continue her successful 20-year career as a teacher and coach at Spanish Fork High School. The Court agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union and rejected this claim as “improper . . . at the most fundamental level.”

Stephen Clark, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Utah, argued that what is at stake in this case is whether those who condemn 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. “Questions about the proper role of the courts often arise at the intersection of ideological or cultural struggle and law,” Clark said. “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.”

Today the Utah Supreme Court agreed with Weaver’s arguments and noted that any method for remedying school teacher violations already exists through professional boards, the local school board, or the State Board of Education, which in this instance had taken no action against Weaver.

The court also ruled that no private right of action exists for students and parents of students to enforce requirements for public school employees, that the court is not a forum for mere advisory opinions, and that it had no authority to fire Weaver or order the school board to do so.

ACLU cooperating attorney Rick Van Wagoner added, “The Court today recognized its role in our system of government, acted in a restrained fashion within the bounds of that role, and recognized the proper role of the other branches of government in exercising responsibility and discretion, and withholding judgment, over the types of issues raised in the complaint.”

Weaver, who now goes by her original name, Wendy Chandler, still teaches at Spanish Fork High. She was given the good news at school today by her partner, Rachel Smith. “All along, I felt that some people were vindictive toward me, but were also trying to set a precedent for taking action against any teacher they didn’t like,” Chandler said. “I’m glad that the Utah courts ruled that this was not proper. It is important for all teachers.”

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