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Court Voids Section of Oklahoma Anti-Homosexual Law

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A portion of an Oklahoma law that allows schools to fire employees for practicing or advocating certain homosexual activities has been struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver.

In a 2-to-1 decision delivered March 14, the appeals court said the state was within its rights in firing or punishing teachers who engage in public homosexual activity. But the court said another part of the law, which punishes teachers for advocating homosexual activity or the rights of homosexuals, violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. The case is XXXXXXXXX name to come.

"A teacher who went before the Oklahoma legislature or appeared on television to urge the repeal of the Oklahoma anti-sodomy statute would be advocating, promoting, and encouraging homosexual activity and creating a substantial risk3that his or her speech would come to the attention of schoolchildren or school employees. ..." the majority opinion said.

The court said such statements, aimed at legal and social change, are protected by the First Amendment.

"Historic Victory"

A spokesman for the National Gay Task Force--the plaintiff in the case--called the decision a "historic victory" for homosexual-rights advocates. The Task Force's membership includes some Oklahoma public-school teachers.

"This law permitted firing of teachers for speaking out in favor of gay and lesbian rights," said Virginia M. Apuzzo, executive director of the organization. "We were not defending public homosexual acts."

The defendant, the Oklahoma City Board of Education, argued that the law was meant only to prohibit teachers or employees from engaging in or advocating public ho6mosexuality.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma had rejected the Task Force's various arguments in 1982, concluding that its fears were "unwarranted."

Dissenting Opinion

The appeals court's ruling contained a dissent that said the entire law should have been upheld.

The dissent by Judge James E. Barrett said, in part, that Oklahoma had "endeavored to protect its schoolchildren and school employees from any teacher who advocates, solicits, encourages or promotes public or private homosexual activity pinpointed as the commission of the unnatural and detestable act of sodomy."

The school board has not indicated whether it will appeal the decision. Last week, the Oklahoma legislature passed a resolution, with 74 co-authors, urging the state attorney general to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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