The Seattle Catholic response to marriage equality

Now that more and more states are adopting equal marriage laws — or having their discriminatory laws struck down by federal judges — Catholic archdioceses have begun responding by firing any employees who exercise their right to same-sex marriage. The Seattle Times today carries a good overview of what’s happening. Click here to read the story. (To read a subsequent New York Times update, click here.)

For Seattle, most of the focus has been on the dismissal of a popular vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School, Mark Zmuda. He was fired shortly before Christmas, prompting a student uproar and the collection of more than 20,000 petition signatures online urging the Archdiocese of Seattle to reinstate him.  Presented with those signatures yesterday, an Archdiocese spokesman said that although the school had made its own decision, it was one the Archdiocese supported. “Catholic schools have a right to expect school leaders not only to pass along Catholic teachings but to model it for their students,” the spokesman argued.

I certainly think that the Mark Zmuda firing heads us into new ethical and legal as well as political terrain. We know the Catholic Church doesn’t want to celebrate marriages equally.  But does that mean its institutions should fire people because it disapproves of their legal marital status (even while continuing to employ other folks who violate its norms on birth control, etc.)?    Even if the employees have signed contracts with so-called morality clauses, the selective enforcement of such contract provisions against particular individuals because of their sexual orientation is palpably offensive.

What’s interesting to me to  consider — and an element that the media has not yet followed — is that the mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, is himself a newly married gay man and a devout Catholic who often attends Mass at the St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University, a Jesuit school. Murray went to the chapel to worship on his inauguration day this past week. But a few months ago when he wanted to marry, he and his partner had to go to an Episcopalian Church.

So here we have a situation where the local Catholic Archdiocese wouldn’t hire someone of the quality and experience of the city’s own mayor — and would actually now support firing him if he happened to work at a Catholic institution.

Beyond being senseless, I’d call that a pretty bad way to kick off the relationship with the new mayor — whose help, after all, the Archdiocese might need some day.

I’m fascinated by what might be said at the first meetings between Archbishop Peter Sartain and Mayor Ed Murray.

I’m hopeful that maybe the mayor, as well as  the many business leaders in the Seattle area who know that everyone benefits when diversity is supported, can  persuade the Archdiocese to find a more just approach.

Indeed, maybe Ed Murray and his partner Michael Shiosaki could invite the Archbishop over to dinner sometime… you know, just to break a little bread.

Seattle’s new gay mayor inaugurated

Ed Murray was inaugurated as Seattle’s mayor yesterday, the first LGBT person to claim such a high political post in Washington state.  As a previous state representative and then state senator, Murray has worked for LGBT rights for decades, successfully coordinating the passage of an anti-discrimination law in employment as well as the  passage in 2012 of an equal marriage law. He and his partner Michael Shiosaki, who have been together for 22 years, were just married five months ago.

Ed Murray, left, the new mayor of Seattle and his husband, Michael Shiosaki. Photo from Wikicommons
Ed Murray, left, the new mayor of Seattle and his husband, Michael Shiosaki. Photo from Wikicommons

Ed is a classic example of a social justice advocate who knows how to pragmatically work in the legislative trenches and build coalitions, finding ways to position himself so that others need his help and then coaxing them along to also help LGBT causes.  His early work, under his legislative mentor Cal Anderson, was documented in the closing chapter of the original 2003 version of Gay Seattle; his latest work was detailed in the introduction to the 2013 paperback edition.

In an inaugural day filled with symbolic events — including a breakfast with homeless women and children and a racism workshop with his staff — the one that particularly caught my eye was his decision to attend Mass at the Seattle University chapel. Ed is a Catholic and the SU chapel is often his choice for worship, but as a Catholic institution, SU forbids any same-sex marriages in the chapel. When Ed and Michael married, they had to hold the ceremony in a nearby Episcopal cathedral.

Ed’s decision symbolically echoed one that had been made by Cal Anderson more than two decades earlier in the 1990s. For years, Cal had worked to pass the anti-discrimination bills that Ed would eventually pass. At first, he had the support of the social-justice-minded Seattle archbishop, Raymond Hunthausen.  But when the Vatican cracked down on Hunthausen and eventually replaced him with far more doctrinally minded archbishops, the local Catholic Church withdrew its support for the anti-discrimination bills — to both Cal’s and Ed’s dismay.  But in a startling symbolic statement, when he died of AIDS, Cal — who was not Catholic — requested burial from the Catholic Archdiocese’s cathedral, St. James. What amounted to a state funeral attended by government and religious figures as well as hundreds of citizens made a dramatic statement about the dignity of LGBT individuals in the face of homophobia. (Click for excerpts from “On Catholic Hill” in Gay Seattle)

Attending Mass at SU gives a good indication that Mayor Murray intends to insist upon LGBT inclusion and recognition and dignity — even amid doctrinal rejection.