Both school officials and a lesbian student claimed victories Tuesday when a Mississippi federal court issued a ruling in the highly publicized prom case.
U.S. District Court Judge Glen Davidson said the Itawamba County, Miss., school board violated the rights of Constance McMillen, 18, by canceling the high school prom rather than allowing her to attend with her girlfriend.
At the same time, the judge denied an injunction filed by the student asking the court to order Itawamba Agricultural High School to put the prom back on the calendar.
"The record shows Constance has been openly gay since eighth grade and she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date," the court wrote in a 12-page ruling. "The Court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment."
The school prom had been scheduled for April 2. McMillen went to the assistant principal, Rick Mitchell, in December asking if she could bring her girlfriend to the dance. She was told that wasn't allowed, the teenage student recounted on "The Ellen Degeneres Show." She then went back in January and said she wanted to wear a tuxedo to the dance. But the assistant principal said that too was forbidden.
A school district policy requires that prom dates be of the opposite sex
She was also told that she and her girlfriend could be thrown out if other students felt uncomfortable by their presence.
The American Civil Liberties Union demanded that the district reverse its decision and allow the lesbian couple to attend their senior prom. The district decided to cancel the dance altogether.
Since then, the student has garnered media attention and support from the gay rights community with over 400,000 supporters on a Facebook page set up for her case.
But Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, argues that McMillen was in fact being treated fairly by the school.
"The same rule, the same criteria for bringing dates to the prom applied equally and fairly to every student in the district, including her," he wrote in a commentary. "She had the same right that every other student had, the right to bring an opposite sex date to the prom.
"What's clear here is that homosexual activists don't in fact want equal rights, they want special rights."
Following the court decision, McMillen said she plans to attend a private prom that is being sponsored by parents and that school officials said was open to all IAHS students. She is also planning to go to the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition’s Second Chance Prom in Tupelo on May 8. The latter dance is being sponsored by gay rights supporters.