Last week, Tippi McCullough and Barb Mariani traveled from their home in Little Rock, Arkansas to Albuquerque, New Mexico to make their 14-year relationship official by marrying. Just 45 minutes after their ceremony, McCullough received a phone call from a secretary at Mount St. Mary Academy, where she had taught the past 15 years, informing her that if she followed through with the wedding, she would lose her job at the Catholic School. It was a bit late for that.
As they hit the road to the Grand Canyon for their honeymoon, McCullough returned the missed calls she saw from Principal Diane Wolfe, who informed her that she could not return to work because she had violated her contract clause requiring she not stray from Catholic teaching. She was told she’d be allowed to resign and will be offered a glowing recommendation, but that she could no longer teach at Mount St. Mary. Mariani was astonished by the apparent double standard her wife was subjected to:
They hire people who aren’t Catholic, with a lot of different belief systems. What’s upsetting to me is that the morality clause covers birth control, premarital sex and they are certainly not pro-choice. It’s disturbing to me that no straight teacher is called in and asked if she’s using birth control or unmarried and having premarital sex with a boyfriend.
The Human Rights Campaign raised national attention about McCullough’s story, which prompted many to write to Wolfe and urge her to change her mind. In a response to Whitney A. Bauman, Assistant Professor of Religion and Science at Florida International University, Wolfe explained that she had no choice in the matter — nor does she take responsibility for it:
While I respect your thoughts, concerns and theological expertise, you really have no clue. This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger. Perhaps you would be more informed to direct your opinions to the Catholic church. Do you honestly think a lowly high school principal of 531 girls would take this kind of monumental action on a whim or based on my “conservative views? [...]
I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be. It seems many are quick to judge my actions as my decision and accuse me of cowardice in the performance of what I was hired to do. Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church and the directives of those responsible for giving oversight to those tenets? I urge you to quit being so naive to think this was solely my decision and solely my action.
The Catholic Church has a storied history of firing teachers for entering same-sex marriages or just for being gay, but this may be the first time an administrator has attempted to justify such an action as “courageous.”