Gay marriage and the future of evangelical colleges

At the moment, there is no federal non-discrimination law that prevents schools from enforcing these policies. Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia offer protections to gay and lesbian students, but they usually grant exemptions to religious institutions. The first serious challenge to such policies came last summer, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges asked Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts, to review its ban on “homosexual practice” and determine whether it violated the association’s accreditation standards. Gordon announced in March that it had completed the review and decided to keep the ban in place.

But as gay rights have gained wider acceptance over the past few years, many evangelical colleges have found themselves facing a predicament. Policies forbidding gay relationships have brought negative media attention and increasingly frustrated students, both of which could turn disastrous for religious colleges already struggling with tight budgets and uncertain futures. In 2013, Grace University in Nebraska made headlines after it expelled a student for being in an openly gay relationship who thus violated the school’s code of conduct. Earlier this year, Erskine College in South Carolina drew widespread scorn when it publicly condemned gay relationships as “sinful” after two of its athletes came out as gay on the website outsports.com. And Gordon College not only attracted criticism for its ban on same-sex relationships but also lost a contract with the city of Salem when government officials learned about its rule against hiring gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile, it appears that some evangelical colleges are tentatively opening up to discussions about new LGBT policies. But the process is often uneven.