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Rev. Debra Haffner Headshot

Non-Virgins Need Not Apply

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I couldn't believe the news story was true.

The Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Florida, fired an elementary school teacher, Jarretta Hamilton, for having had premarital sex. A school administrator said, "Jarretta was asked not to return because of a moral issue that was disregarded, namely fornication, sex outside of marriage."

Ms. Hamilton is not an irresponsible teenager or young adult. She is 39 years old and married to the man she had sex with, who is the father of her child. Her mistake was telling the school she had conceived the child prior to their wedding night. It's hard to imagine her husband would be fired for the same.

Although many churches continue to mandate "celibacy until marriage," most clergy today know that most of the couples they marry have already had shared sexual behaviors. According to the Guttmacher Institute, for at least the last 40 years, 95% of Americans had sexual intercourse before marriage. A Roman Catholic friend recently told me about a priest in premarital counseling who had asked couples to abstain for one month prior to the wedding ceremony, apparently acknowledging that most were already sexually involved.

I don't believe that Ms. Hamilton acted immorally or unethically in having sex with her fiancé. In fact, I believe that sexual compatibility is so important in a marriage that I won't perform a wedding for a couple that has only engaged in the least intimate sexual behaviors. In my time as ordained clergy, I have never performed a wedding for a couple who isn't already cohabitating. I believe that an ethical sexual relationship is defined not by the marital status of the partners (nor by their sexual orientations or genders), but by whether their relationship is characterized by love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure.

From this distance, I can't know the ethics of Ms. Hamilton's relationship, or her skills and talents to teach elementary school. What I do know is that premarital chastity should not be among the criteria of employment, and that if the news reports are true, she should be re-instated. That's the moral response that should not be disregarded.