By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com January 13 2014 1:07 PM ET
A five-year teaching veteran in Sandusky, Ohio, was forced to resign last week, after informing officials at the Catholic school where he worked that he and his partner had gotten engaged.
Brian Panetta had served as director and coordinator of music at Sandusky Central Catholic School since 2009, but after he and his longtime partner got engaged on Christmas Day, he received a letter of termination, which came January 3, reports the Sandusky Register.
That letter informed Panetta that his engagement violated the terms of his contract, which mandated that he "live a lifestyle according to the Catholic faith," according to the Register.
Panetta, who identifies as a gay Catholic and reportedly attended Catholic school from kindergarten to 12th grade, told the Register he knew his engagement would complicate his relationship with the school.
"I knew if we ever wanted to get married, it would limit my time teaching at the school I love," Panetta told the Register Friday. "When I met with the diocese, they basically told me my engagement is a public statement of my support for equality for gay marriage, which the Catholic Church does not support."
While the initial letter said Panetta had been fired, he met Thursday with the school's administrators, a priest, and members of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, who allowed him to resign rather than be terminated.
"I'm satisfied with their explanation, and right now I’m just praying for understanding and strength," Panetta told the Register. "It's hard for me to walk away, but it's what's best for me personally, and I hope my students will understand that."
On Friday, the school sent a letter to parents and students announcing Panetta's departure.
"It is with great sadness that we extend to you that Mr. Brian Panetta has resigned his position today as director and coordinator of music at Sandusky Central Catholic School," the statement said. "Although parting ways is never easy, especially in the midst of a school year, we would like to thank Mr. Panetta for his devotion and service to the school, and the gifts and talents he brought to the music program."
The school's email to the community also included a link to a letter from Panetta, in which he announced "with heavy heart and great remorse" that he was stepping down from his position.
"I am, however, proud to announce that over Christmas Break I accepted a proposal of engagement to my partner of five years," Panetta's letter continued. "As a proud and gay Catholic, I understand the Church’s teachings on marriage and agree that my engagement is a public statement of my position for marriage equality, which the Catholic Church does not yet support. I am hopeful to see change in the future, but until then I am praying for strength and understanding and encourage my students to do the same."
Ohio state law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in public employment. But because Sandusky Central Catholic School is a private, parochial institution, it is within its legal rights to terminate Panetta for his plans to enter into a same-sex marriage.