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Suit over bar exam query dropped

Man alters view on same-sex marriage

Email|Print| Text size + By Mark Pratt
Associated Press / January 11, 2008

A man who filed a lawsuit contending that he failed the Massachusetts bar exam because he refused to answer a "morally repugnant" question about same-sex marriage says he has since changed his views on gay rights.

"After speaking with numerous members of the gay community, including my own friends, I began to empathize with their denial of basic human rights and how they feel discriminated against," Stephen Dunne said in a phone interview yesterday with the Associated Press.

Dunne, an Irish immigrant who first came to the United States in 1998, said the change also was prompted in part by racism the Irish once faced in the United States, his six-year stint in the US Army, and the war in Iraq.

"Members of the gay community are in combat and dying for their country, and yet they're being denied the basic human rights they are fighting for," he said.

Dunne first apologized for being an "instrument of bigotry and prejudice" in an e-mail published in the Jan. 3 edition of Bay Windows, a weekly Boston newspaper.

In the letter, he said his "misguided" lawsuit "regrettably perpetuated intolerance and animosity towards my fellow Americans."

Dunne, 31, was denied a license to practice law in May after scoring 268.866 on the exam, just short of the passing mark of 270. He sought $9.75 million in the federal lawsuit filed in June against the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Dunne said his score was hurt because he refused to answer an exam question addressing the rights of two married lesbians, their children, and their property during a divorce. He said the question legitimized same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, contrary to his moral beliefs.

He called the question a "disguised mechanism to screen applicants according to their political ideology" and said it "has the discriminatory impact of persecuting and oppressing sincere religious practices and beliefs" protected by the First Amendment.

The suit also challenged the constitutionality of the Supreme Judicial Court's 2003 decision that made same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.

But in October, Dunne, who represented himself in the case, asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, saying in a motion that "defendants have removed the patently offensive and morally repugnant question" from the exam.

It was unclear whether the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners removed the question because of the lawsuit, and the board did not return messages left yesterday for comment.

Dunne, who is Roman Catholic, said yesterday that he no longer found the question objectionable and still considers himself deeply religious.

"Christ said: 'Love all. Serve all,' " he said. "It was a message of inclusion, rather than exclusion."

Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said she believed that Dunne's apology was honest.

"I think it is genuine, because I have seen so many other people make similar journeys," she said. "He just made his publicly."

Dunne dismissed critics who think he is just changing his view to avoid appearing bigoted when applying for jobs. He said he plans to work for himself.

Dunne, who has been studying 60 hours per week while working at a Boston law firm, said he expects to pass when he takes the bar exam again next month.

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