When same-sex marriage officially became legal in Florida yesterday, supporters of equality in the Sunshine State rejoiced, with people packing churches to celebrate and tweeting out congratulations and wedding announcements. With even Republican Jeb Bush accepting the shift as the law of the land, it looked like almost everyone was getting on board.
Everyone, that is, except for staffers who work for the Archdiocese of Miami.
On Tuesday, the Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, sent a letter to his employees lamenting the arrival of marriage equality to the state and warning staff members that they could lose their jobs if they post anything to social media to express support for same-sex marriage.
“Whatever the role in which you serve within the Archdiocese, you publicly represent the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese in everything you do and say,” the letter read, according to NBC 6. “Therefore, it is important that you understand the Church’s position and are well informed.”
The letter quotes a section of the Archdiocese of Miami Employee Handbook which warns “certain conduct, inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church, could lead to disciplinary action, including termination, even if occurs outside the the normal working day.” It goes on to insist that “employees should exercise discretion when posting on social media sites.”
The Archdiocese also released a statement condemning the recent court decision.
“How society understands marriage has great public significance,” the statement read. “Because of this, redefining civil ‘marriage’ to include two persons of the same sex will have far-reaching consequences in society. Such a change advances the notion that marriage is only about the affective gratification of consenting adults. Such a redefinition of marriage does nothing to safeguard a child’s right to a mother and father and to be raised in a stable family where his or her development and well-being is served to the greatest extent possible.”
The statement and Wenski’s letter seem to reference the Catholic Church’s formal opposition to homosexuality, which is described as “objectively disordered” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism actually allows for Catholics to exercise their own freedom of conscience, but church leaders retain the right to hire and fire employees based on church teachings.
Still, there appears to be a diversity of opinion among church officials on how to articulate the church’s position. In contrast to Wenski’s letter, Robert N. Lynch, the Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, published a far more compassionate response to the news in yesterday’s Tampa Bay Times, acknowledging the church’s opposition to marriage equality but condemning attempts to shame same-sex couples.
“Therefore, I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society,” he wrote.
The seemingly conflicting tones of the two Florida clerics appeared to frustrate and confuse LGBT rights advocates.
“These contradictory narratives cause a bit of whiplash for Catholic Floridians,” a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said, according to the blog Joe.My.God. “In Miami, Catholics are told they can’t even publicly congratulate their LGBT loved ones celebrating marriages today. Yet across the state in St. Petersburg, the church’s message is one of compassion celebrating the love and value of same-sex couples. I can tell you it wouldn’t take long for me to decide which of these church leaders’ sermons I’d prefer to hear.”
Granted, it would be unusual for an archdiocese to fire someone simply for supporting same-sex marriage, but the Catholic Church in the United States has proven itself willing to dismiss employees for being publicly gay. Colleen Simon, a former worker at Catholic food pantry in Kansas City, Missouri, was fired by church leaders last May after a local newspaper mentioned that she was married to a woman. Similarly, Colin Collette, a gay man, was removed from his position as the longtime music director at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, Illinois after he announced his proposal to his husband on Facebook.
Simon and Collette have since received an outpouring of support from local parishioners, and both are currently pursuing legal action against their respective dioceses, arguing they were wrongfully terminated. But the Catholic Church and other religious groups are allowed to fire people for being gay because of a legal loophole known as the “ministerial exception.” Although faith-based organizations are subject to anti-discrimination policies, they retain full control over who they hire — and fire — for “ministry” positions, a broad classification that is not limited to ordained clergy.
ThinkProgress reached out to the Archdiocese of Miami for comment, but did not receive a reply by press time.