Catholic School Asked Gay Administrator to Dissolve His Marriage to Keep His Job

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 27 2013 1:37 PM

Catholic School Asked Gay Administrator to Dissolve His Marriage

Students at Seattle's Holy Names Academy protest the forced resignation of Eastside Catholic Vice Principal Mike Zmuda.
Students at Seattle's Holy Names Academy protest the forced resignation of Eastside Catholic Vice Principal Mike Zmuda.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie Frey

Mark Zmuda has lain low ever since he was forced out of his job as vice principal of Seattle’s Eastside Catholic High School last week. But on Thursday, one of Zmuda’s students released a clip from an interview she conducted with the beloved administrator—and, predictably, the disclosures are both heartbreaking and infuriating.

First, Zmuda set the record straight about his dismissal: It was the school’s decision, not his, he says. Following publicity from a school-wide protest, Eastside claimed that Zmuda had voluntarily chosen to quit his job. This, Zmuda says, is a lie; the school unequivocally terminated his contract “because [he] violated Catholic teachings” by marrying a man. Upon hearing the news, Zmuda notes that he “asked ‘if it was breach of contract.’ They say ‘no.’ I said, ‘did it have to do with my job performance or evaluations’ and they also said ‘no.’ ” Eastside then confirmed the sole reason for Zmuda’s termination: marrying his partner.

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Perhaps more shocking, Eastside has admitted to making a last-ditch effort to keep Zmuda in his position: School President Sister Mary Tracy asked him to dissolve his marriage in order to retain his job. Zmuda declined the offer. As his student explains, “I think that he would much rather share that love with [his partner] and get married than think about what the school was doing.”

Due to Eastside’s obfuscations and outright deceptions, it’s difficult to determine whether the fault for Zmuda’s termination lies with Eastside or the church itself. But the ambiguity of that question is overridden by the shocking revelation that the school presented Zmuda with the perverse and unconscionable choice of either getting fired or getting divorced. (Or perhaps Tracy hoped Zmuda could simply annul his union—which, at this stage, is likely impossible in the state.) That offer, made by the school’s president herself, isn’t just some well-intentioned but thoroughly misguided effort to hold onto Zmuda. It is a vile and morally repulsive act of iniquity. No straight person in this decade would ever face such a twisted dilemma, nor should they have to; no human, gay or straight, should have to choose between his spouse and his job. That Tracy placed Zmuda in this painful position suggests an alarming lack of ethics, a total blindness to basic morality on her part. For a church that speaks so highly of love, its mouthpieces at Eastside seem surprisingly eager to stamp it out for the crass purpose of avoiding a PR disaster.

In an interview last year, after claiming it was “God’s will” that she take over as president, Tracy outlined her plan for Eastside. “I believe,” she said, “we need to attract ... the students who will make the best use of the resources we have to offer. ... We want the students who become physicists, Olympians, win Nobel Prizes.” By protesting Eastside’s warped actions, Eastside’s students have proved themselves worthy of Tracy’s vision. Now Tracy has failed these students. The protests will continue, and perhaps the school will even find a way to bring back Zmuda. But with all we now know about Eastside’s appalling immorality, who would ever want to associate with such a dreadful, bigoted place?

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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