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A Missouri marriage reveals the complex relationship between religion and marriage equality

Community/Meta

By Jacob Combs

On Friday, the New York Times published the poignant but frustrating story of Al Fischer and Charlie Robin, a couple from St. Louis who flew to New York for the weekend to wed in front of the Bethesda fountain in Central Park.  The wedding, which took place on the couple’s 20th anniversary, had been in the plans for a year, when Fischer and Robin considered travelling from Missouri to neighboring Iowa for their marriage but opted to make a weekend of it in New York City instead.  The day after Valentine’s Day, Al Fischer announced his wedding plans to friends and coworkers at the Catholic school where he was a music teacher.  They applauded.  The next day, he was fired.  From the Times:

[Fischer and Robin] did not expect any problems. After all, everyone knew they were gay.

But the day after the announcement, Mr. Fischer said, “I was informed that I’d have to leave my job after the wedding.” As part of his employment, he had signed a witness statement that he would not take a public stand against the tenets of the church, “and this was considered a public stand,” he said.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis explained in a statement on Friday, “When he publicly demonstrated a life inconsistent with Catholic teaching, Al Fischer was relieved of his duties as part-time choir director at St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Parish and as music teacher at St. Ann Parish School.”

The good news is that Fischer’s story has a happy ending.  Not only was he able to express his commitment in the eyes of the law to his partner of 20 years, he has already accepted a new job offer at a secular school and has also received offers to work in more supportive church environments.  Fischer and Robin, who are both Catholic, say they will remain in the faith but will look for a new church to attend.

But Al Fischer’s experience also reveals an interesting schism that seems to be developing in the Catholic church between the laity and the clergy.  As the recent political furor over the Obama administration’s rules regarding contraceptive coverage as it relates to religious employees has demonstrated, it appears that on some issues, the opinion of the average Catholic individual is not necessarily represented by the average Catholic cleric.  Fischer had been open about his orientation at his Catholic school for years, and his wedding announcement was greeted warmly by his colleagues.

This trend isn’t just anecdotal, it’s also supported by data.  A March 2011 report on the issue found that more Catholics support legal recognition for gay couples than oppose it, with 43 percent suppporting marriage equality, 31 percent favoring civil unions and 22 percent opposing legal recognition.  On the one hand, the Catholic Church is not a democracy, and support for LGBT rights among the laity does not mean anything in terms of the clergy changing its positions.  But Catholic voters are still voters, and their support is part of the broad coalition that is advancing LGBT rights in America.

No American should be fired for getting married.  Considering a marriage, one of the most important and personal decisions an individual can make, as a “stand” against a church’s religious beliefs is reprehensible.  But as the nuances of Al Fischer’s story demonstrate, the tension between the Catholic Church and LGBT rights isn’t black and white.

16 Comments

  • 1. Sagesse  |  March 12, 2012 at 9:03 am

    @

  • 2. dsc77  |  March 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

    This trend of using one's freedom of religion as an excuse to discriminate is chilling. How long before the average person can do this?

  • 3. George  |  March 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Any communicant that is supportive of the marriage of the Gay Couple should join in the Catholic Blogs that call for the boycott of monetary donations to homophobic, bigoted and racist religious organizations such as the Catholic Church.

  • 4. Bob  |  March 12, 2012 at 10:09 am

    sign the global petition to end the murder of homosexuals in Iran
    http://allout.org/en/actions/stopthekillings/taf

  • 5. Sheryl_Carver  |  March 12, 2012 at 10:26 am

    If you've ever read any of the views expressed by the NOMbies over at NOMblog.com, you'll know that this is exactly what they want. From not issuing marriage licenses if that's your job, to not providing other services or products to same-sex couples. All in the name of "freedom of religion" – for them, of course, not for any religious people with different beliefs. So far, it seems like the courts are siding with the Constitutional definition, not NOM's, but that doesn't make me feel any less anxious.

  • 6. Bob  |  March 12, 2012 at 10:45 am

    but his experience reveals an interesting schism developing in the Catholic Church between the laity and the clergy,,,,, that's about time,, and very heartening news,,,,,,,

    I agree with George's comment re becoming involved in things like boycott's , and finding supportive groups within the Catholic Church

  • 7. Straight Dave  |  March 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

    I find it very good news that some Catholics are starting to clamp down on their leaders over this. They did the same thing over the pedophile priest scandals. However, I am just jaded enough to think that the church hierarchy is suicidally locked into their own dogma. They will once again lose their buildings, property, contributors, and congregations before they would ever think of "caving". All the better, as far as I'm concerned.

    This schism is very real. If only Catholics were allowed to vote in RI, SSM would probably pass easily.
    I suspect if some reformist Catholic churches started up, they could do a pretty good buisness these days. But that's just not the "Catholic way", so forget it. Oops- we already did that. It's called Protestant.

  • 8. Straight Dave  |  March 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

    We're staring at it right now. The Blunt Amendment, the Rhode Island civil union exemptions. NY came very close to the line. If Cuomo hadn't had the integrity and guts he did…

  • 9. Bob  |  March 12, 2012 at 11:45 am

    there are things happening within the Church,, and yes they're aren't acknowledged by the Pope,, but still relevant in our times check this out
    http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/ordained

  • 10. Rick  |  March 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

    "Fischer and Robin, who are both Catholic, say they will remain in the faith but will look for a new church to attend."

    They should leave the Catholic church. Period. If not, withhold all financial support to the Catholic church. If all those who opposed the Catholic church's stand on contraceptives, gay marriage, abortion, etc. withheld their financial support, the clerics might change their tune. Nothing motivates more than money.

  • 11. MightyAcorn  |  March 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I agree. No one should pay to pursue their faith when that money is used to undermine other people's lives. Tithes paid to these religious organizations fund NOM and other anti-gay and anti-woman efforts, harming real people. Stop tithing until they change their ways and stop funding campaigns to harm us, and if they won't, it's time to take your faith and find somewhere else to worship.

    The economic vote should be applied across the board, it's not like refusing to pay taxes where you might go to jail. What is the risk? Do you really believe you will go to hell if you stop cutting your church a check? Though some people risk losing the goodwill of family and friends who are more conservative, stop and consider: are these really people you want to associate with–people you may love but whom knowingly fund prejudice and infringement of civil rights?

    If you believe in God, you must know he doesn't reside only in the one building where you're accustomed to praying. Walk out, be free of the harm you help perpetuate by continuing support, and choose kinder and more aware people to fellowship with.

  • 12. truthspew  |  March 12, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    The Catholic Church is way out of touch with the laity. Without said laity there is no church.

    I think the clerics are getting what they deserve.

  • 13. Ray in Sacramento  |  March 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Catholic Bishops are now ending funding to non-Catholic charities. The Diocese of Sacramento pulled funding from Francis House, which helps the homeless, because the director's personal comemnts on abortion and same-sex marriage. The director isn't even Catholic, she is a United Methodist minister.

    See article: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/03/08/4321074/catholic

  • 14. Theo McKinney-Ewing  |  March 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    from the same folks who brought you "Orphans detained as political hostages" in honor of some unfocused theo-political statement on how "icky" God supposedly thinks loving gay couples are…

    Who cares if the hostages turn 18 before the "church" sees it's "point" go down in flames, like it or not.

    when does this Antigay sickness STOP?

  • 15. Straght4Equality  |  March 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    This Catholic Church had no problem with two gay men living together. But just let them get married and they won't tolerate it! So the church prefers for couples to live together over getting married.

  • 16. Keiffer  |  April 11, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    A little rationality lifts the quality of the debate here. Thanks for congributint!

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