For those who didn’t see, I had a column in the September issue of the Cardozo Jurist. Mostly, I call out the Dean for trying to find the middle ground in a debate where there should be no middle ground. (pdf: Mintz Diller jurist column 9-10)
Last year, bubbling below the normal Sturm und Drang of law school, the issue of homosexuality at Cardozo was a constant thread waiting to erupt into scandal. The problem began with a letter from Yeshiva University president Richard M. Joel reacting to an undergraduate forum on homosexuality in the Orthodox world. In essence, the letter instructed gays to stay in the closet. The problem continued through Dean Diller’s unwillingness to assert Cardozo’s secular stance against discrimination. As students sat in their caps and gowns this past graduation, Diller probably hoped that the equality badges on some students’ arms would be the last of this scandal. But, the world does not live by Dean Diller’s hopes.
Over the summer, a group of more than 100 Modern Orthodox rabbis, educators, and doctors in Israel and the United States signed a “Statement of Principles” in direct reaction to that Yeshiva University forum. The Statement explained, “all human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” and that “embarrassing, harassing or demeaning homosexuals is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.” Furthermore, while the Statement said that Jewish law still condemns same-sex marriages, it instructed Jewish communities to “embrace the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting.” Despite the signing of this Statement, the controversy is still not dead, and Cardozo still has to face the extent to which it will publicly embrace the gay community.
In light of all this, Dean Diller probably imagines himself some great negotiator. On one hand, Cardozo maintains a policy that is certainly positive towards the gay community. We hire gay faculty and administrators, have talks about issues pertaining to the gay community, and overall seem like any other law school. However, to outside observers, Cardozo still refuses to assert its secular basis and a policy distinctly separate from the religious institutions of Yeshiva University. Oh, what a balance Diller has achieved. He has appeased students and faculty by maintaining a pro-gay policy within the walls of 55 Fifth Avenue. However, to outside observers and the black hat donors, Cardozo is in lockstep with Yeshiva’s religious policy. Like Lyndon Johnson, he has negotiated civil rights while maintaining the approval of his various political constituencies.
But Cardozo is no U.S. Senate and Diller is no Johnson. He is the Dean of a second tier law school who doesn’t have the guts to stand up and say that while there are religious justifications to deny equal rights to the gay community, the secular institution that is Cardozo is not bound by them. All gay panels, gay administrators, and gay clubs will not have the same effect as actively stating that Cardozo does not and will not discriminate.
Diller is trying to talk out of both sides of his mouth. But as anyone knows, you cannot really talk out of both sides at once. At one point, you have to decide who you’re talking to and who you’re spitting on. And given a three-year student turnover, he probably has no problem spitting all over the students.
The issue regarding gay rights has not died over the summer. From the Orthodox “Statement of Principles” to Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the march for gay rights continues. Hopefully, this semester, Diller will let the march for gay rights set foot inside Cardozo, and let the world, and Yeshiva University, know that it is allowed inside.
The column is somewhat ironic. I was opinion editor of the Thresher during the Prop 2 vote in Texas, which was a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage or anything resembling it. During this time Ryan Goodland was leading the fight on campus against the amendment, while the Queers and Allies, or whatever the club was called then, basically did nothing. Ryan had written a column for the Thresher about it, and wanted to write another. I was hesitant to let another column on the topic run without some sort of counterbalance or opposing viewpoint.
“Evan,” as I recall him saying. “If someone wanted to run an anti-fascism column, would you insist on a column talking about how fascism isn’t so bad?”
In a few decades, people will look back at the gay marriage political battle with a similar attitude as those who look back at the ’60s’ civil rights battles. Heck, one only has to look back 6 short years to 2004 to find political rhetoric and policy about gay marriage that seems completely repulsive in a current light.
Cardozo is trying to find a middle. It should be on the forefront.