Gay Couple Sues University of Hawaii Following Denial of Family Housing
(Honolulu, March 10, 2008) — At a press conference today, Lambda Legal announced its intent to file a lawsuit against the University of Hawai`i, representing Phi Ngo and Joseph O'Leary, a gay couple not allowed to move back into family housing after living there for one year.
During the 2006-2007 school year, Phi and Joseph lived in family housing on the main campus of the University of Hawai'i (M??noa) while O'Leary worked toward a degree in history. They reapplied for family housing for the 2007 – 2008 school year, but the University denied their request. In a letter dated May 30, 2007, the interim director of University Housing Services stated that the University "recognizes marital status as defined in Section 572-1 of the Hawai'i Revised Statutes," which restricts the term "marriage" to different-sex couples. The letter goes on to state that "[u]ntil such time that the state revises its definition of marital status, we will continue to apply the existing definition to our assignment policy for married housing."
In other words, the University claims that it denied Ngo and O'Leary housing merely because they are not a married couple. However, the Supreme Court of Hawai`i has already held that the denial of any of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples constitutes discrimination in violation of the Hawai`i Constitution. Lambda Legal submitted a friend-of-the court brief in that case and was later more directly involved in the second round of litigation in that case.
"The University is putting our clients and other same-sex couples in an impossible position," said Brian Chase, Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney. "Joe and Phi are a family. The University had no problem with Joe and Phi living in family housing last year. It makes no sense for the University to suddenly decide to discriminate against them just because they are gay."
Due to the denial of family housing Phi and Joseph were forced to lease a more expensive off-campus apartment. The apartment is not within walking distance to campus, so Joseph is forced to incur significant transit expenses to get to and from his classes. He has also had to forgo use of the subsidized student meal plan. The additional expenses amount to several thousand dollars per year.
Brian Chase of Lambda Legal is counsel in O'Leary v. University of Hawai`i. Clyde Wadsworth of Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing is co-counsel.
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