Catholic school vice principal dismissed for being in a gay marriage

BY Robert Pursell  January 24, 2014 at 3:13 PM EDT

Prop 8 protest in Seattle. Photo by Flickr User Wil Taylor

Mark Zmuda, a former vice principal and swim coach at Seattle’s Eastside Catholic High School, was dismissed per direct order of the Archdiocese of Seattle, after being confronted about his gay marriage. The resulting fallout has manifested in student organized sit-ins, protests and resignations. Last month, the chairman of the school’s board was forced to resign from the backlash. With the school community still up in arms over Zmuda’s dismissal, the school’s president announced her resignation Tuesday.

Zmuda’s dismissal is not the first of its kind. In the past month, Brian Panetta, a band and choir director at Sandusky Central Catholic School in Ohio, was forced to resign after telling his his principal he planned to marry his boyfriend. In December, Michael Griffin was fired from his position as a Spanish and French instructor at Holy Ghost Preparatory High School in Pennsylvania days after he told his superiors he planned to apply for a wedding license in New Jersey.

In Seattle, where gay marriage is legalized, the opposition to Zmuda’s dismissal now has the support of Seattle mayor-elect Ed Murray, an openly gay Catholic in a same-sex marriage who joined the students in a protest outside the archdiocese of Seattle. Senior class President Bradley Strode’s online petition to have Zmuda re-instated has garnered more than 45,000 signatures on change.org.

For his part, Zmuda has remained steadfast in his devotion to his marriage. Before his dismissal, he refused school President Mary Tracy’s request for him to dissolve his marriage to “save his job”. Instead, Zmuda chose to accept his termination, while still supporting his former students.

“I am first a teacher and administrator”, Zmuda told students following his dismissal , “And I hope that no matter what happens to me and to the school, that all of you guys will seek a career and work very hard, find the love of your life, hopefully one day get married as well. At the same time, no matter what happens, strive to do your best.”

The turmoil surrounding Zmuda’s dismissal at the request of the Church has illuminated the growing rift between practicing Catholics and the Papacy in Rome. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released in October, 60 percent of all American Catholics support gay marriage. Those numbers jump to 64 percent with Catholics under the age of 50. Yet despite these sentiments, many in the Catholic Church continue to advocate against LGBT rights. The newest Spanish Catholic Cardinal, Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, in an recent interview with the Spanish daily paper Diario Sur called homosexuality a “physical defect” comparing it to high-blood pressure and saying it “can be cured”.

In November Cardinal Timothy Dolan, said that the Catholic Church had been “out marketed” on the issue of gay marriage , comparing the push for gay marriage legalization to a “stampede” by the government that he “regretted”.

All of this comes at a time when the fight for gay marriage is gaining ground. Virginia’s newly elected Attorney General, Mark Herring, announced Thursday that he planned to stop defending the state’s laws banning same-sex marriage while arguing, “for their being declared unconstitutional”. In 2013, seven states legalized same-sex marriage and in July the Supreme Court of the United states ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act, giving full federal recognition for same-sex couples and opening for such unions to resume in California.