Catholic School Students Protest Firing Over Gay Marriage

Jan 7, 2014
Originally published on January 8, 2014 5:56 am
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The issue we just heard about is also making news in suburban Seattle. A Catholic school there apparently fired a staff member for being in a same-sex marriage. NPR's Martin Kaste has more.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Mark Zmuda was a vice principal at Eastside Catholic School until shortly before Christmas. The school says he resigned. He insists he was fired. But both sides agree about why he left.

MARK ZMUDA: They said it was because I was married to a man, and violated Catholic teaching.

KASTE: That's Zmuda in a video posted on YouTube over the weekend. It shows him and his new husband being interviewed by one of his former students. The video has reignited the controversy over Zmuda's departure, in part because he says the school suggested that he could solve his problem by getting a divorce.

ZMUDA: You know, the fact that I have a same-sex partner, and having a same-sex marriage, they're against that. But I also thought another teaching that they were against was also divorce. So, I'm a little shocked that that was even on the table.

MICHAEL PATTERSON: You know, I was not part of that conversation.

KASTE: That's the school's lawyer, Michael Patterson. He says, apparently, the school president apparently did mention divorce to Zmuda, but that she did so with good intentions.

PATTERSON: Out of frustration, to try to keep a valued administrator, Sister Mary Tracy may very well had thrown that out as a hypothetical without consultation with her lawyers or with the church, you know, how do we go about trying to keep you here.

KASTE: Now the school's facing a backlash, especially from its own students. Before the Christmas break, many of them walked out of class, and they held raucous protests on Zmuda's behalf. One rally attracted the newly elected mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray. He's also in a same-sex marriage. On YouTube, Zmuda called the protests incredible.

ZMUDA: I mean, this was all student-driven. The students are the ones who put this stuff on social media, and have stood by me.

KASTE: It's a delicate situation for the school. It sent emails to parents warning against more protests. But the school's lawyer is careful not to condemn the students.

PATTERSON: You know, we applaud them for exercising their First Amendment rights, but certainly, we have our own First Amendment rights that need to be respected, as well.

KASTE: The courts have affirmed church's First Amendment right to impose their religious doctrines on their ministerial employees. It's a category that includes teachers.

PATTERSON: It is a Catholic school, and given those parameters, it should not have been any complicating surprise to him that he needed to adhere to those Catholic principles.

KASTE: And Zmuda isn't even the first to find himself in this situation. In early December, a Catholic high school near Philadelphia fired a teacher after he got a same-sex marriage license in New Jersey. Legal experts say the schools are within their rights, but students at Eastside Catholic have pledged to keep up their protests. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.