Virginia Man Says Catholic Nursing Home Fired Him for Being Gay

John Murphy and Jerry Carter

A Virginia man says he’s been fired as the top administrator of a Catholic-affiliated nursing home because he’s gay and in a same-sex marriage, and he’s filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

John Murphy was executive director of Saint Francis Home, an assisted-living facility in Richmond, for just about a week before he was terminated, the Associated Press reports. When he was hired, the home’s board president said his relationship wouldn’t pose a problem, he told the AP this week. The home is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, and the board members are appointed by the local bishop.

But soon after he started the job, “two deputies of Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo told him that he was being fired because his marriage goes against church doctrine,” the news service reports. Murphy said he believes DiLorenzo found out about his marriage through the paperwork for new employees that goes to the diocesan office.

Murphy, a lifelong Catholic, said the firing has shaken his faith. “I thought I found a safe place where I could do good and I won’t be judged and I won’t be ostracized,” he told the AP. “People being discriminated against because of who they love, when it has nothing to do with their performance, is outrageous.” Murphy (pictured above, left, with husband Jerry Carter) received no severance pay, so he and Carter, a retired social worker, are living mainly on Social Security benefits, he said.

A diocesan spokeswoman declined to comment on specifics of Murphy’s case, citing confidentiality of personnel matters, but told the AP the diocese expects employees to adhere to church teachings, “including the values that are consistent with the sanctity of marriage.”

The diocese appears to take a hands-off approach to management of Saint Francis Home otherwise, though. It does not fund the home’s operations, although allowing it to solicit donations from parishioners, and the board hires laypeople as professional administrators.

Murphy filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC last month, the AP reports. If it finds the diocese committed unlawful discrimination, it will try to negotiate a settlement. If those negotiations are unsuccessful or if the commission does not find there has been discrimination, the matter will likely end up in federal court.

Virginia does not ban antigay discrimination by private employers, and there is as yet no federal law explicitly banning such discrimination. The EEOC ruled this summer that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s provision covering gender bias. But the EEOC ruling hasn’t been tested in court yet, and courts may not apply it evenly, so a federal law like the pending Equality Act is still needed, according to LGBT rights activists.

Murphy’s case also raises the question of how broad an exemption religiously affiliated employers can have from antibias law. Religious groups don’t have to obey such laws in the hiring of clergy, but there is controversy over whether they should apply to positions that don’t involve religion, even if the institution is owned by a religious group. In the past few years, numerous employees of Catholic-affiliated institutions have lost jobs because of their same-sex marriages.

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