Politics

01.24.14

Why Pushing a Catholic School to Keep a Married Gay Man Is Bad for the LGBT Movement

A Seattle-area high school fired a gay man who was married because that runs contrary to doctrine. Activists would be smart to pick another fight.

One of the most compelling arguments same-sex marriage proponents have on their side is the idea that providing civil marriage to gay couples does not impede the religious practices of others. It’s a brilliant legal and tactical strategy because it essentially deflates most arguments used by religious people to oppose legalization of same sex marriage at the civil level. After all, if gay couples are not trying to storm your houses of worship, or religious institutions, what business is it of yours whether they want to enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual couples?

This is what makes the latest efforts of some same sex marriage supporters so puzzling, with many going out of their way to prove that their original claims of staying out of religion were apparently not true.

Thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage have signed petitions and protested in support of Mark Zmuda a gay teacher who was fired from a school in suburban Seattle. According to reports Zmuda was fired, or possibly forced to resign from his job as a high school Vice-principal for marrying his husband.

Did I mention that Zmuda’s employer was a Catholic High School?

In the ensuing fallout Eastside Catholic High School has found itself under an intense media microscope. The school’s president Sister Mary Tracy has resigned, with statements indicating she has become collateral damage from the swelling controversy. But there should be no controversy.

Eastside is a Catholic high school, which means it attempts to adhere to Catholic doctrine that does not support two people of the same sex marrying.

You know what else it does not support? Priests marrying members of any sex. That means if a priest wanted to go to Vegas and marry a woman he’d probably have to move from Eastside to a public school if he wanted to continue his career in education. Catholic doctrine also doesn’t support two people of the opposite sex engaging in premarital sex. This means if I want to have a live-in boyfriend I would have a tough time finding employment at Eastside or any other Catholic School. So you know what I’d do? Apply to work at a public school instead.

I’m sure there are those who feel embittered that some Catholic institutions applied less gusto to getting rid of pedophile priests than those now getting rid of a law-abiding citizen like Mr. Zmuda. That’s a legitimate criticism. The idea that private schools should have to accommodate secular values is not only ridiculous but also chilling. How the Eastside case has essentially been tried in media raises a number of troubling questions. For instance: does this mean that if I want a job at an Islamic School but I don’t wish to wear a hijab because I consider doing so oppressive, I should speed dial a news outlet and line up some protesters?

To be clear, I believe that losing faculty members like Mr. Zmuda is not a benefit to students or schools. By all accounts he is an extraordinary educator. But that doesn’t change the fact that Eastside is within their right to let him go. It also doesn’t change the fact that any parent who has a problem with that choice has a right to remove his child from that school. But bullying Eastside or other religious institutions like it via media is not the answer.

The idea that private schools should have to accommodate secular values is not only ridiculous but also chilling.

If anything all that does is reinforce the paranoia already lurking among some that there is some larger agenda being pushed by a so-called liberal media, liberal activists and even the LGBT community to force all Americans to think like they do. That perception is a much bigger problem for supporters of same-sex marriage than its foes.

While court victories mount for same-sex marriage, the court of public opinion remains divided. That means that effectively reaching the half of America that does not support gay marriage should matter to LGBT activists. Targeting religious institutions for practicing their religion is not an effective way to reach them.

Protests only get you so far. Court rulings do too. After laws are passed people ultimately evolve by living side-by-side, learning to like each other, laugh together and love each other.

If same-sex marriage supporters are not careful, they will push those Americans they most need to reach, further away and will end up losing battles that really matter. For instance, at the moment there is no federal law protecting Mark Zmuda from being fired from a public school for being gay, and there won’t be until ENDA (The Employment Non-discrimination Act) becomes the law of the land.

Maybe that’s where activists applying pressure to Eastside Catholic School should focus their petition efforts. After all, Mark Zmuda wasn’t fired for being gay, but for getting married. Despite efforts to frame this as a gay rights debate, it’s simply not one. He would still have his job if he had not chosen to get married. Plenty of people think that’s silly and they may well be right, but I think it’s silly that priests can’t marry. As a result I don’t attend Catholic churches and I don’t teach at Catholic schools. But what I won’t do is demand that a Catholic School be required to employ a priest who chooses to secretly marry me, or employ one of my friends who chooses to marry someone of the same sex—even if I plan to be front row at the wedding.