The new Catholic response to marriage equality

Now that more and more states are adopting equal marriage laws — or having their discriminatory laws struck down by federal judges — Catholic archdioceses have begun responding by firing any employees who exercise their right to same-sex marriage. The Seattle Times today carries a good overview of what’s happening. Click here to read the story. (To read a subsequent New York Times update, click here.)

For Seattle, most of the focus has been on the dismissal of a popular vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School, Mark Zmuda. He was fired shortly before Christmas, prompting a student uproar and the collection of more than 20,000 petition signatures online urging the Archdiocese of Seattle to reinstate him.  Presented with those signatures yesterday, an Archdiocese spokesman said that although the school had made its own decision, it was one the Archdiocese supported. “Catholic schools have a right to expect school leaders not only to pass along Catholic teachings but to model it for their students,” the spokesman argued.

I certainly think that the Mark Zmuda firing heads us into new ethical and legal as well as political terrain. We know the Catholic Church doesn’t want to celebrate marriages equally.  But does that mean its institutions should fire people because it disapproves of their legal marital status (even while continuing to employ other folks who violate its norms on birth control, etc.)?    Even if the employees have signed contracts with so-called morality clauses, the selective enforcement of such contract provisions against particular individuals because of their sexual orientation is palpably offensive.

What’s interesting to me to  consider — and an element that the media has not yet followed — is that the mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, is himself a newly married gay man and a devout Catholic who often attends Mass at the St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University, a Jesuit school. Murray went to the chapel to worship on his inauguration day this past week. But a few months ago when he wanted to marry, he and his partner had to go to an Episcopalian Church.

So here we have a situation where the local Catholic Archdiocese wouldn’t hire someone of the quality and experience of the city’s own mayor — and would actually now support firing him if he happened to work at a Catholic institution.

Beyond being senseless, I’d call that a pretty bad way to kick off the relationship with the new mayor — whose help, after all, the Archdiocese might need some day.

I’m fascinated by what might be said at the first meetings between Archbishop Peter Sartain and Mayor Ed Murray.

I’m hopeful that maybe the mayor, as well as  the many business leaders in the Seattle area who know that everyone benefits when diversity is supported, can  persuade the Archdiocese to find a more just approach.

Indeed, maybe Ed Murray and his partner Michael Shiosaki could invite the Archbishop over to dinner sometime… you know, just to break a little bread.

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