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Gay Notre Dame students can buy football tickets for their spouses

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Eight years ago Notre Dame denied the request of Business School student Cody Lassen to buy his longtime partner a football season ticket. Today, any married student can buy those tickets at the Catholic school.

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When Cody Lassen applied for admission to Notre Dame's business school in 2007, he had a curious application interview. Not only was he asked by the interviewer if he was gay, but he was informed that if he were accepted to the school, he would not be allowed to buy football tickets for his parter of six years.

The Notre Dame athletic department has a policy that allows graduate students to buy highly discounted football tickets for spouses and children. The policy on Notre Dame's Web site today reads:

A copy of your marriage certificate/child's birth certificate must be presented at the time of ticket purchase to receive the married student ticket. No other form will be accepted as proof of marriage.

The problem? In 2007, Lassen and his partner - or any other same-sex couple - couldn't legally marry anywhere in the United States outside of Massachusetts. Furthermore, at the time the Bay State barred same-sex couples from outside of Massachusetts from marrying there. Neither Lassen nor his partner, Nitzan Mekel, were born in Massachusetts or residents in 2007. They could not legally marry in this country.

Not until 2008 did California become the second state to legalize same-sex marriage, according to Freedom To Marry's national campaign director Marc Solomon. Of course, California rescinded the right several months later. At the time, the school's policy effectively banned gay couples from sharing in the benefit that straight couples received.

When Lassen applied for a spousal football ticket in 2007 anyway, he received a request from the athletic department at the Catholic school to see his marriage certificate. When he couldn't provide one, they denied his request.

Lassen said other straight students who made the request were not required at the time to show their marriage certificates. In fact, a straight fellow MBA student was allowed to buy a ticket for his girlfriend - who lived almost two hours away in Chicago - without a marriage certificate.

"Forcing me to provide a marriage certificate was their way of wiggling around the true issue of their opposition to same-sex marriage," Lassen said. Today he does not donate money to Notre Dame because of LGBT issues at the school, including a checkered past on acknowledging an LGBT student group (that is slowly changing). Lassen is currently an officer on the board of directors for GLAAD.

Eight years later, the school's policy on spousal football tickets has become more strict while at the same time become more equal.

Rob Kelly, director of ticketing and technology for the Notre Dame athletic department, told Outsports that gay married couples are absolutely allowed to buy the same discounted spousal football ticket to which straight married couples are given access. Kelly, who has been in this role for almost two years, said he could not comment on the policies of 2007, but that today the marriage-certificate requirement is equally applied: He cited an incident last fall when a student requested a ticket for his girlfriend. Without a marriage certificate, that request was denied.

While gay students are still at a disadvantage, it's hard to say this policy is not fair to same-sex couples. True, those couples can only marry in 37 states while straight couples can marry in all 50 states. However, given that same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Indiana - where Touchdown Jesus stands watch - since last autumn, it's hard to say gay Notre Dame students don't have ample opportunity to marry.

Notre Dame also has a real, vested interest in maintaining the marriage-certificate policy, Kelly said. Tickets to the Fighting Irish football games are in high demand, and access to highly discounted student tickets can be easily exploited by scalpers or students looking to make some extra money.

Notre Dame has made several key steps toward LGBT inclusion in the last two years. When Indiana legalized same-sex marriage in October, the school announced it would extend benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. The school has also developed a broader plan to examine better inclusion of LGBT people on campus. In addition, the athletic department has created a You Can Play video declaring its intention of inclusion for athletes and coaches of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

"As a Notre Dame alum, I'm happy that a Catholic school recognizes the validity of marriage equality, even if it's in a small capacity like football tickets," said You Can Play project founder and NHL executive Patrick Burke. "It would be easy for a religious school to say a marriage has to be recognized by their church, so it's nice they don't do that. They've made a lot of strides on LGBT issues, particularly in the athletic department, since I graduated."

Also check out SBNation's Notre Dame blog, One Foot Down.