When two California university students were expelled for being in same-sex marriages, they filed a lawsuit claiming the school violated anti-discrimination laws.

However, the Central District of California has sided with Fuller Theological Seminary against the students, ruling that as a religious organization enforcing its beliefs on marriage, it falls under a religious exemption to the federal anti-discrimination law.

“The Sexual Standards Policy limits its definition of marriage to a heterosexual union and prohibits extramarital sex. [Fuller] interpreted this policy to mean that same-sex marriages violate the religious tenets of the school,” Judge Consuelo Marshall wrote on Oct. 7. “The Court is not permitted to scrutinize the interpretation [Fuller] gives to its religious beliefs.”

Joanna Maxon and Nathan Brittsan sought Title IX protections when they were dismissed for “failing to comply with the seminary’s sexual standards policy” in 2018 and 2017 based on sex and sexual identity, each requesting $1 million, reported Christianity Today.

Maxon had completed three years of coursework online before the school saw her wife listed on tax returns, according to CT. Brittsan, an American Baptist Churches USA minister, had requested a name change after getting married the summer before he began course work.

Paul Southwick, the attorney representing Maxon and Brittsan, previously told CT their case “could set an important legal precedent that if an educational institution receives federal funding, even if it’s religiously affiliated, even if it’s a seminary, that it’s required to comply with Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination as applied to LGBT individuals.”

Senior Attorney Daniel Blomberg for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented Fuller, called it a “huge win” for religious higher education, ensuring religious institutions rather than the government will be “deciding how to teach the next generation of religious leaders,” reported CT.

Becket Law wrote a press release on this case: 

“As a religious educational institution, the seminary has the First Amendment right to uphold specific standards of faith and morality for the members of its Christian community. Federal civil rights law has affirmatively protected this fundamental constitutional right for decades. Until now, no court had ever been required to apply those laws to protect a seminary. Fuller’s win helps protect religious schools nationwide.”


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