When Eastside Catholic High School fired Vice Principal Mark Zmuda for marrying his male partner, many students and alumni protested the decision.
At Seattle Pacific, students had mixed reactions to the firing, and school administrators say it’s difficult to speculate what would happen under similar circumstances here.
News coverage of the controversy hit headlines in mid-December, reporting that Mark Zmuda was asked to resign after it was discovered the gay vice principal had married his partner this past summer. School officials said Zmuda’s same-sex marriage violates his contractual agreement to abide by Catholic Church teaching and resulted in his dismissal.
“At first I was shocked to hear that Eastside had fired someone who is gay,” said freshman Chad Brown, who attended Eastside Catholic. “But once you dive into the actual details of why Zmuda was let go, I think you can see it’s more complicated than that.”
Brown believes the firing was a result of a contractual violation and not Zmuda’s sexual orientation.
“I think it’s tough when all you see in the headlines is that a gay person was fired for getting married,” Brown said. “I don’t feel good about someone being fired like this, but at the same time, it’s a private school that can make those decisions.”
Brown said he knew of other teachers at the school who were fired for not following Catholic teachings.
“It shows how if someone violates the contract, it doesn’t matter what it is. It’s still a violation of that contract with the same results,” Brown said.
In a recent interview with one of his former students, Zmuda said he was offered the opportunity to retain his position if he agreed to divorce his husband.
While Eastside’s attorney maintains the option of divorce was only hypothetical, the conflict worsened when a part-time musical coach has remained employed after announcing her engagement to her same-sex partner.
Sophomore Catherine Moffett, a student ministry coordinator in Hill Hall, said she understands why Eastside Catholic made the decision, even if she’s not sure how to feel about it.
“I think you have to remember that they not only have academic responsibilities but religious responsibilities, also,” Moffett said. “They are a Catholic school with the responsibility of shaping students’ faith, so their decision makes sense, but obviously it’s leaving behind a bad reputation.”
Moffett said she doesn’t think SPU should monitor faculty’s romantic relationships.
“I think trusting that faculty are Christian and have spoken truth with where their hearts are in the Lord, they’ll have their own accountability for following consistent beliefs set by the university,” Moffett said. “I wouldn’t ask the university to be accountable for whether my professor is gay.”
Sophomore Lauren Lane, an alumna of the Catholic school Holy Names Academy, said she does not agree with the Catholic Church’s stance on same-sex marriage, but she also understands why Eastside Catholic made the decision.
“Because I also went to a Catholic high school, I understand that Eastside’s beliefs opposing same-sex marriage are the reason for firing Zmuda,” Lane said. “They seem supportive in hiring staff who are gay, yet to me, their decision to fire Zmuda seems unwelcoming and discriminatory.”
Lane said if a similar firing happened at SPU, she believes the reaction would be mixed.
“Honestly, if SPU were to experience something similar, I think it would be way more complicated because we’re more religiously diverse,” she said.
Provost Jeff Van Duzer said faculty and staff hired are required to sign SPU’s Statement of Faith.
“While competency is clearly critical to any hiring decision, a faculty member who is unable to affirm our ecumenical Christian faith statement will not be hired,” Van Duzer said.
There’s no apparent precedent for what would happen at SPU if a faculty member entered into a same-sex marriage.
“I am very reluctant to speculate based on a hypothetical situation,” said Van Duzer when asked about what SPU’s response would be to a situation similar to that of Eastside Catholic’s. “I would note that the relationship between that school and the Catholic Church appears to be significantly different than our relationship with the Free Methodist denomination.”
Chad Brown, quoted and pictured above, is a staff reporter for The Falcon.