Loyola University Chicago changed its guidelines for wedding ceremonies on campus, adopting an official policy ahead of Illinois' equal-marriage law on June 1. The new policy, enacted last December, only allows Catholic weddings in the university's Madonna della Strada Chapel. All other civil or religious weddings, including same-sex unions, are banned from campus facilities.
The decision also comes after a Loyola student launched a Change.org petition last September, urging university administrators to allow same-sex ceremonies on campus. Christine Irvine, a Loyola junior studying visual communication, started the petition after officials denied her request to use university facilities for her upcoming wedding. Irvine said there were no problems until officials learned she would marry a woman. To date, the petition has more than 2,900 signatures.
In her first interview about Loyola's new policy, Irvine told Windy City Times that the decision doesn't seem bad to anyone who may not know how it came about. She believes the university made the decision to specifically forbid same-sex ceremonies on campus.
"It's really disheartening," Irvine said. "It's a sign of the non-acceptance and non-tolerance of the LGBT students on campus ... a sign of disrespect of our love compared to our peers."
Before Loyola enacted its official policy last December, the university's standard practice welcomed ceremonies "legally recognized" in Illinois. But despite legal recognition of same-sex civil unions in Illinois, those ceremonies were still forbidden at Loyola venues.
Irvine said the distinction never made sense to her.
"I think they were struggling for a way to justify excluding same-sex couples from having their ceremonies on campus. And that was the best they could come up with," she said. "The discriminatory decision they made wasn't a policy at that point, it was just something they were choosing to do as an institution."
University officials haven't made a formal announcement about the new policy, but they share it on a case-by-case basis, according to a Loyola spokeswoman.
"It's the congruency with our Jesuit and Catholic tradition that caused us to implement this official policy as a result of the forthcoming Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," said Maeve Kiley, Loyola's director of communication. "Our policy reflects our desire to reserve and use our facilities and campuses for rituals and ceremonies that are congruent with our obligations and values as a Jesuit, Catholic institution. That is why we are limiting weddings to Catholic ceremonies in our Catholic chapel."
Loyola's religious affiliation and mission affords the university exemptions granted under the equal-marriage law, which states that religious organizations are not required to provide their facilities for wedding ceremonies and receptions. The law also protects religious organizations from legal penalties for refusing to solemnize a marriage or rent religious facilities for receptions, should the type of ceremony contradict religious beliefs. Loyola still allows members of the public, including same-sex couples, to rent their venues for wedding receptions and other events.
However, the law's definition of "religious facilities" states that educational facilities are not exempt. With Loyola's standing as both a religious organization and an educational institution, there could be room for interpretation based on how the law is worded. But the wedding and reception venues offered by the university aren't necessarily used for educational purposes.
Kiley said that no current wedding ceremony reservations will be impacted by the new policy. On average, 20 ceremonies were hosted each year at university facilities other than the Madonna della Strada Chapel. Members of the public, including same-sex couples, can still rent Loyola venues for wedding receptions.
As for Irvine's wedding, she and her fiancee already made other plans for their June ceremony and reception. After Loyola rejected their request, the couple chose Firehouse Chicago at 1545 W. Rosemont Ave.
Irvine said she's disheartened that Loyola officials didn't extend the previous guideline to allow same-sex marriages, which will be legally recognized come June.
"[Loyola] claims to be a progressive institution having a commitment to social justice and I expected that they'd have no problem with it," Irvine said, adding that she feels community members were ready for a shift. "It's just disappointing that they had a good opportunity to show leadership and I honestly feel they failed the LGBT community."