Hosannah Tabor Redux: Firing Teacher Who Has Same-Sex Wedding

December 10th, 2013

In another long-read at ThinkProgress, Ian Milhiser writes about a case where a catholic school fired a gay teacher for obtaining a marriage license in Pennsylvania.

Michael Griffin taught French and Spanish at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pennsylvania for twelve years. During that entire time, he’s been in a relationship with his same-sex partner. Indeed, according to Griffin, his partner’s “been to numerous school functions with me, he’s even been to [the headmaster’s] house.”

On Friday, Griffin applied for a marriage license with his partner — saying he was “excited to finally be able to marry” him after the state’s courts made marriage equality a reality in nearby New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, Griffin was called into his boss’ office.

“At a meeting in my office yesterday, teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he obtained a license to marry his same sex partner,” the school’s headmaster Fr. James McCloskey wrote in a statement. “Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

What’s interesting here is that the school knew the teacher had a same-sex partner, but only terminated him when he got married. Putting aside the religious-nature of the employer, firing someone because of their marital status would prohibited.

But, because the employer is a church, it gets funky. This case has shades of Hosannah Tabor. It will probably be tough to fit a foreign-language teacher into the ministerial exception, though the Court’s opinion was very fractured and muddled. Also, I think this case differs from the Elaine Photography Case, or the Colorado Cake Baking case. Here, the issue is not whether these contractors will provide services to gay weddings, but whether the company itself will terminate employees based on their gay marriages.

But, notwithstanding Hosannah-Tabor, this will be a really, really difficult case. Ruling against the Church here opens the door to liability for churches for excluding members of the clergy who are gay, or even women. The scope of the ministerial exception, left unclear in Hosannah Tabor, would need to be clarified soon.