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Marianne T. Duddy-Burke

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Same-Sex Marriage IS Dangerous -- to Church Workers

Posted: 02/16/2012 3:35 pm

On this St. Valentine's Day, we have a new step towards justice and equality for lesbian and gay couples to celebrate. Just yesterday, after Senator Ed Murray welcomed us to "the other side of the rainbow," Governor Christine Gregoire signed marriage equality into law in Washington state. As I watched the very moving and joyous ceremony, where the belief that this was the right thing to do was so very apparent, I rejoiced for all same-gender couples who will experience the profound joy of having their commitments and love legally recognized in the Evergreen state.

Shortly before tuning in to this great event, however, I read another story of a person employed by a Catholic institution who was fired for marrying a same-sex partner. This time, it was Steav Bates-Congdon, the music director at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was terminated for marrying his partner of 23 years in New York. He had told the pastor at the church six months before the ceremony, who never indicated there would be repercussions. In Sept. 2010, Christine Judd, the athletic director and dean of students at Cathedral High School in Springfield, MA lost her job about a month after her civil marriage to her female partner. That November, Laine Tadlock was fired by Benedictine University in Springfield, IL for placing an announcement that she and her partner had celebrated their marriage in Iowa in a local paper.

These are just a few of the situations like this out there -- the ones where the partners chose to go public. I've been contacted by several others, including at least two couples raising children, who wanted to protect their privacy, their families, or future employment options. They wanted to know if their employers really had the right to fire them, and if they had any chance to get back jobs they loved and that spoke to their sense of mission. The reality is that LGBT people working for religious churches or institutions are not protected by most employment laws, so we can be fired for any reason or no reason. Lesbian and gay couples who formalize their commitments -- even when their state laws say it is legal to do so -- have no legal recourse when religious institutions declare that the couple has violated God's law.

I admire couples who decide that their love and commitment are worthy of all the legal protections available to them, and who pave the way for those behind them no matter the cost. I am also heartened that in each situation where an employee was terminated, at least some of the Catholics around them stood with them. They held demonstrations, wrote letters to the editors of local papers, mounted Facebook campaigns, protested to the employer, and engaged in conversation about the situation with others in their circles. They made injustice visible, and told the stories of how they came to the conviction that these firings were not consistent with the heart of Catholic teaching.

Same-sex couples and our families are on the road to having our love and commitment recognized as legally and morally equal to those of our heterosexual sisters and brothers. That is a great thing to celebrate on this feast of love. So is the fact that more and more Catholics are making their support of us and our human rights known in the public square and in our Church. But, on behalf of Steav, Christine, Laine, and all those who need to remain unknown, this Valentine's Day is a time to acknowledge that the road is long, and we have traveled but a small part of the path. In the name of love, will you walk on?

Oh, and, Happy Valentine's Day to my own legal spouse, Becky, and our two daughters, Emily and Fini. I love you with all my heart, and I'm so glad to be working for a Catholic institution that affirms us!