By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com October 18 2013 6:03 PM ET
A Roman Catholic high school in Arkansas has terminated a popular teacher who married her same-sex partner in New Mexico this week, but her students and national LGBT rights groups are fighting back.
The principal of Mount St. Mary’s Academy in Little Rock notified English teacher and coach Tippi McCullough that she would be fired or forced to resign because her marriage went against church doctrine, according to a Human Rights Campaign press release.
McCullough said that while on the road, she spoke with Mount St. Mary’s principal Diane Wolfe. “She told me she never thought the day would come, that I was a great teacher and that she would give me a glowing recommendation if I resigned,” McCullough told the Arkansas Times. “She said her hands were tied when I signed a legal document.”
That document is McCullough’s contract, which has a clause allowing for dismissal if a staff member violates Roman Catholic teaching. When McCullough asked Wolfe how, specifically, she had breached the contract, Wolfe “said she wasn’t going to get into a theological discussion and there was nothing she could do,” McCullough told the newspaper.
McCullough and her wife, Barb Mariani, both said they thought McCullough was singled out for being gay. “They hire people who aren’t Catholic, with a lot of different belief systems,” Mariani told the Times. “What’s upsetting to me is that the morality clause covers birth control, premarital sex and they are certainly not pro-choice. It’s disturbing to me that no straight teacher is called in and asked if she’s using birth control or unmarried and having premarital sex with a boyfriend.” The women also said Wolfe knew of their relationship, although McCullough has never discussed it with students. They had been together 14 years before marrying in New Mexico, where several counties grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and McCullough has taught at the school for 15 years.
Wolfe did not respond to the Times’ request for comment, but a reader forwarded the paper an email that he said had come from the principal. It reads, in part, “I am contractually bound by the parameters set forth by the church teachings. It was brought to my attention that by entering into a same sex civil union, whereby a public document was generated, one would be in direct violation of the morals clause of the employee contract. I would be instructed and bound to do the same action were documentation provided to me that an employee of a Catholic school divorced and remarried without an annulment or if an employee had a side line business of performing abortions.”
HRC is calling for a reconsideration of the decision. “To fire a beloved teacher simply because she is gay is morally reprehensible,” said HRC president Chad Griffin, an Arkansas native. “At a moment when Pope Francis is urging the Catholic hierarchy to put aside judgment and a decades-long campaign targeting devoted LGBT Catholics, it’s shameful that this school is ignoring that hopeful message in favor of explicit and baseless discrimination.”
Students have started a petition campaign to stop McCullough’s dismissal, and a rally of support is scheduled for Monday, the Times reports. McCullough, meanwhile, is considering her next move.