A Catholic school near Philadelphia has fired its well-liked director of religious education because she married a same-sex partner — one of many such incidents that have occurred with the spread of marriage equality. But in this case, the fired employee had been married for her entire eight-year tenure at the school.
Margie Winters and her wife married in 2007 in Massachusetts, and Winters had “kept a really low profile” about the relationship over the course of her employment at Waldron Mercy Academy, an elementary school in Merion, Pa., she told Philadelphia newspaper The Inquirer.
“I actually had a conversation with the principal a few weeks after I was hired to say, 'how should I handle this,'” she recalled. The principal said Winters could let faculty members know about her marriage, but not students’ parents. “So that’s what I’ve done,” she told the paper. “I’ve never been open. And that’s been hard.”
But parents of at least two students found out about Winters’s marriage. One parent voiced displeasure to Waldron administrators, another to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Winters was asked to resign but refused, and the school fired her in a letter dated June 22.
Principal Nell Stetser declined to discuss the reason for Winters’s firing, citing confidentiality of personnel matters, but an email she sent to parents said, “Many of us accept life choices that contradict current church teachings, but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings,” The Inquirer reports.
Also, a statement Stetser provided to The Inquirer noted, “The primary consideration that guided my decision-making process was to sustain the Catholic identity of Waldron Mercy Academy.”
A spokesman for the archdiocese said it played no role in Winters’s dismissal. “There has been no discussion whatsoever about revoking the ability of the school to identify itself as Catholic,” spokesman Ken Gavin told the newspaper.
Archbishop Charles Chaput did write a recent column denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that brought marriage equality to all 50 states. He called it an “abuse of judicial power.” The Roman Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage and expects Catholics with same-sex “attractions” not to act on them.
It’s possible that Winters’s firing violated a local law. Lower Merion Township, which includes Merion, has an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. It does not apply to religious institutions — unless they are “supported in whole or in part by government appropriations,” and Waldron has received substantial funds through a state scholarship program. “They’ve received a good bit of money from the state of Pennsylvania,” state Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat who represents the area, told The Inquirer.
Meanwhile, Winters is receiving much support from parents. One of them, Nancy Houston, said she and her husband will host a meeting on the situation tonight. The dismissal is “not something we're going to accept quietly,” she told the Philadelphia paper, adding that Winters “makes kids love religion” and is “a perfect example of living a religious life.”
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the LGBT rights group, condemned the firing. “We call on the school to reinstate Margie Winters, and look to the day when Catholic leaders like Cardinal Chaput have the strength and courage to embrace our lives, to allow us to earn an honest living, and to participate in the education of our children,” Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, HRC Foundation’s Director of Latino/a and Catholic Initiatives, said in a press relase.