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Can Schools Prevent Same-Sex Prom Dates?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 01, 2015 4:40 PM

It's prom season across American high schools, and while some students are wondering who their date will be, others are wondering if they'll even be allowed to attend prom with their chosen dates.

This is because some schools have policies against allowing same-sex couples to attend prom. But are these prohibitions even legal? Can schools stop you from bringing a same-sex date to the prom?

Fricke v. Lynch

Way back in 1980, a male Cumberland High School student wanted to bring a male date to prom. Aaron Fricke asked Paul Guilbert, who had tried himself to bring a male date to Cumberland's prom the year before. Both requests were denied by the school's principal, Richard Lynch, on the grounds it might lead to a disruption and endanger the boys' safety.

Fricke sued, and a federal court granted him an injunction, finding the school could not ban him and Gilbert from attending as dates. The court essentially said the ban infringed on Fricke's free speech rights. The case remains good law, and is often cited when LGBT students challenge same-sex date bans.

Recent Cases

Unfortunately, Aaron Fricke's lawsuit didn't put an end to bans on same-sex couples at prom. In 2010, a Mississippi high school chose to cancel its prom rather than allow a lesbian student to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. The student, Constance McMillen, sued the school and was awarded $35,000 plus her attorneys' fees. The school also had to enforce a non-discrimination policy that in included sexual orientation and gender identity.

More recently, Stacy Dawson had to threaten legal action when officials at Scott County Central High School told the openly gay student he couldn't bring his boyfriend to the prom. Although the school initially pointed to a written policy, the school district quickly changed its tune when faced with a lawsuit.

Bans on same-sex couples at prom are generally unconstitutional. That said, some schools may still try to enforce them, explicitly or implicitly, or avoid the situation by cancelling events. However, when pushed by legal action or support by the student body, the school officials my change their minds.

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