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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

Westneat: Jobs still lost just for being gay

By Danny Westneat
Published: May 13, 2024, 6:01am

Sometimes a news story seems so behind the times that I find myself double-checking the date. As if maybe it’s one of those items that’s still bouncing around the internet from another decade. Such as: “Catholic school teacher tells parents she is being forced out because she is gay.”

You’re still at this, local Catholics? Still ousting gay employees, in the Seattle area, in 2024? The news is indeed from this year, with the story that a kindergarten teacher at St. Luke School in Shoreline is not having her teaching contract renewed for next year because she’s gay and getting married.

“Father Brad does not approve of my upcoming marriage and feels it is best for the St. Luke community if I no longer teach at St. Luke,” the teacher, Karen Pala, said in an email to kindergarten parents. “Father Brad” refers to Brad Hagelin, the parish priest.

Many parents responded with anger. They said driving out the teacher is mean and discriminatory in spirit, even if it isn’t against the letter of the law.

“It’s a real shock, because this isn’t what St. Luke’s represents to a lot of folks,” a parent there, Nick Beyer, said. “It’s a liberal, accepting place — or so we thought.”

Added a “disheartened” Jennifer Keough, a St. Luke’s alum: “This type of action is what is driving people away from the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop Paul Etienne did some hemming to go along with some hawing: “The reality is that we live in a tension. … Because there isn’t a single defined answer, we must dialog like Jesus did. This is why the application of our covenant clause is handled at the local level.”

The covenant clause involves whether schools require employees to adhere to a “lifestyle” contract in which they’re expected to follow all church teachings, including in their personal lives. In some parishes, this means teachers can lose their jobs if they enter a same-sex marriage or cohabitate outside of marriage.

“No one is fired or non-renewed from employment due to their orientation,” an archdiocese report on the issue summed up. “Rather, it is the breaking of the covenant through actions, public witness, and lifestyle choices.”

Getting married is a public act, so the teacher’s out. It’s sort of like the old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Which even the military ended because it called on gay people to deny or hide their existences.

The church has a right to do this because religious groups are exempt from some parts of anti-discrimination policy. But is it the right thing to do?

Beyer, who has a son at St. Luke, said it feels most tone-deaf coming right after the pope himself said it was OK to bless same-sex couples. That doesn’t mean the church endorses the marriages, let alone performs them. But the people involved are simply loving one another, the pope said. They don’t deserve to be punished.

“That’s the ultimate big boss saying it’s OK, that we should move past this,” Beyer said. “So shouldn’t it be OK in Seattle?”

This is what I wonder every time another gay employee is run out of a job in the name of religion, just for being.

Discrimination against gays and lesbians was banned here 18 years ago. Don’t ask, don’t tell ended 13 years ago. Same-sex marriage has been the law here for 12. Given all that progress years ago, shouldn’t we be better than this by now?

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