Each day it seems, new developments emerge at the Seattle area’s Eastside Catholic High School where a teacher, Mark Zmuda, was fired for marrying his husband in December. This discriminatory action triggered a massive outpouring of student support under the #KeepMrZ2013 movement. This week has witnessed some important developments.
As classes resumed this week, drama coach Stephanie Merrow announced her engagement to another woman, causing many to worry that she would be fired too. School president Sr. Mary Tracy announced that Merrow would be welcome to continue teaching and reiterated there had been no discussion about her job.
A meeting of Eastside Catholic’s board sought to prevent further firings, but no proposals have been announced. It seems this controversy is taking its toll on the high school’s administration, as the board’s chair resigned citing the need for a “break” and Sr. Mary is quoted by KING 5 as saying:
“I look forward to the day where no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex.”
However, Zmuda claims administrators gave him an impossible choice: stay married and remain fired or seek a divorce and keep your job. Putting aside the unethical nature of such a choice, Eduardo Moisés Peñalver, a Commonweal blogger, has pointed out the irony of the request:
“The incongruousness of this suggestion points towards the rhetorical corner the Church has painted itself into on this issue. Instead of embracing same sex marriage as a way for gay people to participate in the many legal and human goods that come from stable, long-term relationships, Church leaders have opted for an all-or-nothing approach in which divorce becomes somehow preferable to marriage for same-sex couples.
“It’s clear from Zmuda’s conversations with the school’s administrators that it was his marriage — and not the fact that he was in a long term gay relationship — that led to his termination. I’m sure many defenders of the Church’s position on same sex marriage will take that as a sensible distinction to draw…As others have noted, however, the Church does not appear to have applied this standard consistently to heterosexual educators who divorce and remarry.”
Students involved with the #KeepMrZ2013 movement have a broader aim than just restoring Zmuda to his job. They have also spoken about changing the Church’s attitude overall on homosexuality. Jamie Manson writes in the National Catholic Reporter about the deeper truths to be noticed about these students and their concerns. She recalls Pope Francis’ recent comments about families led by same-gender couples for context, writing:
“In his latest metaphorical lesson on how to treat the children of same-sex parents, Francis instructs church ministers to be compassionate and welcoming enough toward gay and lesbian parents that their children will not have an aversion to the faith.
“What Francis may come to realize is that, especially when it comes to the new generation’s understanding of same-sex relationships, treating same-sex couples with mercy will not be enough to constitute what they see as true justice. Mercy implies that a sin has taken place. But more and more Catholics are realizing that same-sex relationships should not be treated like sin, but rather with full equality.”
This idea leads Manson to conclude that Eastside Catholic is only one of many examples which are vaccinating younger Catholics against the Church’s faith because of LGBT discrimination:
“These Catholic high school students are genuinely perplexed over why the institutional church continues to regard same-sex relationships as sinful and unworthy of equal treatment. They are not alone. Ask your average high school teacher or college professor in a Catholic educational setting, and most of them will tell you that the majority of students agree with the kids at Eastside.
“Francis’ question is a good one: How can the church proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?
“These students are demonstrating clearly that it will take more than treating gay and lesbian Catholics as sinners in need of mercy to ensure that they do not receive a vaccine against their faith.
“Some vaccines are administered in a series of three shots. If the archdiocesan and school officials continue to stonewall these students, they will, in effect, be administering the first immunity-building shot.
“The second shot will come if the institutional church refuses to hear their voices and listen to their experiences of same-sex couples. (The new generation grew up on the Internet, so the idea of not having one’s voice heard is not only unfathomable, it’s utterly foreign.)
“The final shot against the faith will come if the students are faced with a church that views the same-sex relationships of their beloved family, friends and teachers as sins in need of mercy rather than relationships that deserve dignity, respect and protection equal to heterosexual couples.”
The story at Eastside Catholic reveals the twisted and pastorally harmful results of hierarchical efforts against LGBT rights. Diocesan atmospheres clouded with fear push good people, who may even support equality, to ask quality employees to seek divorces in an odd quasi-recognition of the marriage’s legality. Young people are asking the right questions and even pushing back against this discrimination. Let’s hope and pray that they will be able to continue their witness of faith, and not succumb to these vaccines against faith which will force them to walk away from the church.
2014 is just beginning and it would be a perfect year to turn around this trend of firing LGBT employees from our schools and churches, following in the footsteps of these bold high school students from Seattle.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry