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Catholic School Counselor's Same-Sex Marriage Imperils Her Job

Shelly Fitzgerald
Shelly Fitzgerald

A counselor at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis says administrators may fire her because she's married to a woman.

A guidance counselor at a Catholic high school in Indianapolis may lose her job because she is in a same-sex marriage.

Roncalli High School has placed counselor Shelly Fitzgerald on paid administrative leave, and she says she may be fired, The Indianapolis Star reports.

Fitzgerald has been at the school for 15 years, and she has been with her female partner for 22 years. They were married in 2014 and have a child.

It wasn't clear from the Star's coverage why Fitzgerald's relationship status wasn't previously known to school administrators. It apparently became an issue during discussions regarding the renewal of her employment contract.

Over the weekend, Fitzgerald sent a Facebook message to some parents of Roncalli students saying administrators had offered her the choice of ending her marriage, resigning, or taking the risk of being fired or not having her contract renewed. She declined to comment to the Star but said she has hired an attorney.

School officials defended their position in a public post on Facebook Sunday night. They said Fitzgerald "has made public a confidential personnel matter concerning her employment contract with Roncalli" and declined to address her specific situation, but made clear the expectation that employees adhere to church teachings, including the doctrine that marriage is limited to opposite-sex couples. School administrators and the Indianapolis Catholic archdiocese would not comment further.

There have been several other cases of employees losing their jobs at Catholic schools and churches after marrying a same-sex partner. Religious organizations generally have an exemption from state and local antidiscrimination laws. The state of Indiana does not prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination by private employers, but the city of Indianapolis does.

Some workers at Catholic schools have said they shouldn't be considered "ministerial" employees, who are expected to promote the teachings of the church. "All of these cases are being tested, and there aren't clear lines yet," Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBTQ Catholic group DignityUSA, told the Star.

She denounced Roncalli's position regarding Fitzgerald. "I just think that it is wrong and flies in the face of Catholic values of love, compassion. and justice to have accepted the good work of lesbian and gay and transgender employees and then to fire them, often without any kind of recourse," she said.

Duddy-Burke added that "religious liberty" laws such as Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act are enabling wider discrimination. The law was extremely controversial when signed in 2015 by then-Gov. Mike Pence, and was subsequently amended so as not to override local antidiscrimination ordinances. But it and similar laws in other states are still a threat to LGBTQ people, she said.

"You think every person of good will wants to be able to respect the ability of people to believe what they want to believe, and whether that's any version of faith or no version of faith," she told the Star. "But what's happening is institutions are being given more power to discriminate under the label of religious liberty, and cases like this are showing the real impact." Donald Trump's administration has also embraced the view of religious liberty as freedom to discriminate.

Numerous Roncalli students and alumni planned to show support for Fitzgerald. "I have had hundreds of students and alumni message me [regarding] ways they can support Ms. Fitzgerald," junior Madison Aldrich told the Star.

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