How should the church respond when gay employees get married? Firing them is not the answer.
By the editors of America Magazine
In May 2015, one month before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of civil marriage for same-sex couples, a series of unexpected events unfolded in Germany. By a two-thirds vote, the German Catholic bishops’ conference voted to change church labor law so that employees of Catholic institutions who divorce and remarry or who enter same-sex unions will not be subject to dismissal.
Civil unions for same-sex couples have been legal in Germany since 2001. What sparked last year’s policy change? The bishops recognized that the previous church law, which included a “morals clause” for Catholic employees, was being selectively applied.
“People who divorce and remarry are rarely fired,” Cardinal Rainer Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, said at the time, citing another common violation of the morals clause. “The point is to limit the consequences of remarriage or a same-sex union to the most serious cases [that would] compromise the church’s integrity and credibility.”
Under the new law, the church in Germany can dismiss an employee who publicly expresses “opposition to fundamental principles of the Catholic Church—for example by support for abortion or for racial hatred” or who disparages “Catholic faith content, rites or practices,” on the grounds that these infractions would constitute a “grave breach of loyalty.”
Here in the United States, same-sex marriage has been legal for over a year. Many same-sex couples have chosen to enter into a legal marriage, a number that will surely grow larger with time. At some Catholic colleges and universities, employees who enter into these marriages have been able to keep their jobs. On the parish level, however, many married gay employees have been dismissed, an action often met with sadness or anger from parishioners. In some particularly unfortunate cases, individuals have been secretly reported to their supervisors by other members of the community.