AP: Lesbian teen in prom flap sues, returns to school
How established is prom as a modern-day courting ritual? While there is a social component to it, it is within the structure of courtship -- one hangs out with one's friends and their SOs, understanding that it is supposed to be a night of romance first of all--playing adult by coupling, dressing-up, and spending time with other couples at night, outside of school. The social dances that might take place at prom are limited to those bizarre animalistic dances that do not involve just one partner. Balls of the 19th century have been transformed by the changes that have occurred in American courtship practices. Even if high school dating was not taken so seriously as a form of mutual commitment and exclusivity in the 1950s (see From Front Porch to Back Seat [GB]), it has been transformed thusly.
If prom were more like the social dances of the past, it would not be so difficult to adopt a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, as same-sex dancing could be allowed on the grounds that there are not enough partners of the opposite sex, or one is more comfortable dancing with one's friends. But if one accepts Austen adaptations as being historically accurate, this might have ben acceptable, but only during informal situations. What of a more formal ball? Women who did not have a partner sat out; even if the romantic dimension was not always present, since a ball involved a communal recognition of the natural sexual dynamic between male and female, even if this social ritual expressed it in a more restrained manner. A ball affirms the natural relation between man and women, and so there is this normative quality in social dancing, as one partners with someone of the opposite sex, even if there is a lack of romantic interest. In traditional group dances in which men and women mix, this dynamic is not eliminated completely though it may be muted.
But given the obvious romantic associations of prom, the refusal to admit same-sex couples signals that such relationships are not legitimate or socially acceptable, and LGBT proponents understand this. While I think same-sex couples should be excluded, I do not see how such a decision can be maintained for much longer, given the trend towards greater permissiveness/moral progressivism in costal urban centers and suburbia.
As a high school affair I think proms should be abolished -- they are costly, occasions of sin, and reaffirm a distorted notion of romance and life. Schools are thus giving moral witness to these trends by supporting such dances, even if they claim that they are not in the business of teaching morality. (It'd be even worse if they decided to implement a "safe sex" policy by distributing condoms and other forms of contraception before, during, and after the dance.) Such dances should be left to families and parents and the local community, and the Federal Government would have no business in regulating them. That would be left to local communities.