After junior visual communication major Christine Irvine, 26, said Loyola’s Conference Services denied a request to hold her same-sex civil union ceremony on campus, she started a petition in protest of Loyola’s rejection.
“Imagine what it would feel like to be planning for an incredibly meaningful part of your life, and to one day be told that the school just doesn’t do this thing, and it’s because your partner is another woman,” Irvine said. “I was just trying to think of what we might do so no one else ever has to have that conversation.”
“Within 24 hours, we had [more than] 600 signatures,” Irvine said. “Every hour, I would see people everywhere signing, from North Carolina to New Zealand. I also saw a lot of support from the Loyola community.”
Irvine said she chose to create a petition specifically with Change.org because she has seen the website produce the very thing it takes its name after: change.
“A petition is a helpful tool to rally support behind a cause,” Irvine said. “I’ve seen other Change petitions be really successful in changing these kinds of local-specific issues.”
Irvine said she hopes her petition will open the door for discussion about — and more clarity in the language of — Loyola’s policy.
Maeve Kiley, Loyola’s director of communications, said in an email to The PHOENIX that the university, including Conference Services, would not partake in any direct interviews. Kiley did, however, provide a statement of Loyola’s current policy.
“Currently, the university guidelines are that we allow marriages on campus that are recognized by the State of Illinois,” Kiley said in the email. “But, the university welcomes all wedding receptions on campus, including same-sex marriages.”
According to the Conference Services webpage, campus facilities may also be available for “ceremonies” legally recognized by the State of Illinois.
“I hope the school will come to terms with this policy that [it has] put into place, be clear about what it means, and have a conversation about whether or not it’s really in line with [the university’s] values of social justice and nondiscrimination, because I don’t think it is.”
Irvine claims that because Section 212 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act prohibits same-sex marriages in the state, she and her fiancee wanted to have a civil union ceremony, not a marriage, in Loyola’s Piper Hall or Palm Court.
Illinois legalized civil unions on June 1, 2011, when the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act took effect.
As defined by Section 10 of the act, a civil union means “a legal relationship between two persons, of either the same or opposite sex.” Section 20 of the statute states that parties of civil unions are entitled to “the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.”
The university would not comment on this distinction.
Even though Illinois recognizes civil unions, some students like freshman human services and theology double-major Abbey Smith, 18, said Loyola’s identity as a Catholic institution serves as an adequate basis for denying same-sex ceremonies on its campus.
“You can’t come to a Catholic institution and expect [it] to go against a principal Catholic belief,” Smith said. “It would be rather out there for [the university] to change the policy. It’s more than just a school. It’s the entire Catholic faith. It’s not like it’s the school’s decision.”
Loyola’s Director of Campus Ministry Lisa Reiter also said that in the university’s decision to not host same-sex ceremonies, the school is upholding Catholic beliefs toward marriage.
“I think this is one of those policies where administrators at the university are really trying to use Catholic teaching to inform a decision, to help [the school] be faithful in its identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution,” Reiter said.
Senior philosophy and psychology double major and seminarian Domenick Tirabassi IV, 21, said students that disagree with Catholic teachings should still be understanding of Loyola’s decision against same-sex civil unions on campus.
“Loyola has been highly understanding and accommodating to people of many faiths and ideologies, providing them with places of prayer and recognition on campus,” Tirabassi said. “One would expect Loyola to receive the same understanding from those who disagree fundamentally with its moral teachings.”
In addition to Loyola’s Catholic identity, junior, undecided major, Emily Poynton, 20, said Loyola should keep its policies in place as it sees fit due to its status as a private university.
“Loyola is a private Catholic university, so its policy is fine,” Poynton said. “It’s not a public institution. It would be a totally different story if it was a public school.”
But senior communication and French double major Emily Taft, 21, said that despite Loyola being a private Catholic university, hosting same-sex ceremonies on campus would uphold the school’s mission of social justice.
“In recent years, Loyola hasn’t been a university that just accepts traditional viewpoints and moves on its merry way,” Taft said. “It’s very much in the Jesuit heritage to challenge social norms. We’ve done a lot to challenge those norms, but I think we could go further. It’d be really cool if we could be one of the first universities to recognize a [same-sex] civil union ceremony on our campus.”
Taft said that in recognizing civil unions on campus, Loyola would be furthering its dedication to social justice initiatives similar to those the university has already embraced.
“The Stritch School of Medicine is providing financial support for undocumented students,” Taft said. “That is something that may not be widely popular, but it stays true to the mission of social justice. This is a time where we could say the church has an official standpoint, but we as a community disagree.”
Senior philosophy major and president of Loyola’s LGBTQA organization, Advocate, Paul Kubicki, 21, said that regardless of the university’s intention behind its policy, it should always act in a manner that ensures equality for all people.
“It’s hard to tell our students that we’re an open, accepting and supportive campus when we do have policies that disproportionately affect specific communities and denigrate them to a different status,” Kubicki said. “That has to be changed, and I hope the university will work together with us.”
Irvine’s petition comes around the same time Pope Francis published remarks that the Roman Catholic Church has grown “obsessed” with moral doctrines like gay marriage. On Sept. 19, he expressed his vision of a church that is inclusive and a “home for all,” according to the New York Times.
Kubicki said Pope Francis’ leadership has made him hopeful for the church’s direction.
“There’s still a long way for the Catholic church to go. In sentiment, [Francis] has done a lot that’s really wonderful,” Kubicki said. “[His] sentiment of inclusion is exceptionally important for Loyola to consider.”
Tirabassi said he believes Francis was simply reiterating statements of inclusion that already exist in Catholic social teaching.
“Loyola has upheld precisely what the Holy Father is speaking about,” Tirabassi said. “The church is a home for all.”
Both Kubicki and Irvine said that in the event that Illinois legalizes same-sex marriage, they hope Loyola sticks to its current policy, which could mean the university might host same-sex ceremonies on campus.
“Same-sex marriage may very well pass in Illinois in the next couple of years,” Irvine said. “I wonder if Loyola will act on what [it is] saying in the policy if that happens?”