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A gay music teacher got married. The Brooklyn Diocese fired him.

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A gay music teacher got married. The Brooklyn Diocese fired him.

Matthew Labanca said he held two titles while working for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn: music teacher and parish music director.

For 16 years, he played the organ and led the choir at Corpus Christi Church in Queens. In 2015, he also began working at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Queens, where he taught children to sing and play instruments such as a recorder or drums.

But, after Mr. Labanca married her boyfriend in August, she learned that a group of church leaders were debating her future and wondering whether she had another job within the Catholic Church – ” minister” – although they had no formal religious training and their jobs did not include religious teaching or preaching.

On October 13, the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, fired Mr. Labanca because the church does not accept same-sex marriage.

It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation under federal, state, and New York City laws, but religious institutions are allowed to favor members of their faith in employment settings such as schools and houses of worship.

This loophole does not allow them to discriminate on the basis of traits such as sex or sexual orientation unless the job in question is a ministerial position. It provided the legal basis by which the Catholic Church could refuse to ordain women as priests, but in recent years it has been used to expel people from jobs in same-sex civil marriages that have traditionally been From is not seen as part of the clergy.

In a statement regarding the decision, the diocese referred to Mr Labanka as a “music teacher and minister” and explicitly stated that he was fired because his marriage violates the requirement that ministers follow the teachings of the Church. follow.

“Despite New York state law legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011, church law remains clear,” the diocese’s statement said. It said, “In his case, it has been determined that he can no longer fulfill his obligations as minister of religion in a school or parish.”

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When he was fired, Mr Labanca was offered a $20,000 severance package if he signed a confidentiality agreement that would prevent him from discussing his firing, he said. he refuses.

Instead, Mr. Labanca, 46, publicized his termination to draw attention to the church’s use of legal loopholes to target LGBT people, while other employees whose lives do not align with the church’s teachings were punished. is not done.

“There are many people whose lives do not conform to the teachings of the Church,” he said. “Those who do not go to church on Sunday. People who are on birth control. People who are divorced and get remarried.”

She married her longtime partner, Rowan Meyer, an actor, on August 1 in a ceremony hosted by her father, ordained online through Universal Life Church. Mr Labanka said it was “the most beautiful day of my life.”

He described himself as a lifelong Catholic whose faith was deeply shaken by the events of the past several weeks. He said that he kept thinking about the pastoral approach towards LGBT people adopted by Pope Francis.

“The idea that we should uphold the Catholic faith – there’s a lot of ambiguity right now about what that means based on what the pope said about acceptance,” he said.

Experts said the justification for the dismissal of Mr Labanca and other Catholic schoolteachers like him is still a matter of legal debate.

“There are no government rules about who can be deemed a minister, so this is a really, really broad exemption,” said Sharita Grubberg, vice president of LGBTQ research at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. “The courts have to continue to answer, is this person a minister or not?”

The Supreme Court ruled last year that federal employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers in religious schools if their duties include religious activities, such as praying with students. But it also found in a separate case that LGBT people were covered by a federal civil rights law that prohibits workplace discrimination based on sex.

“The Supreme Court has taken a very broad view of ministerial exception,” said Kathryn M., director of the Law, Rights and Religion Project at Columbia Law School. Franke said. “The boundary question is when does a staff actually engage in ministry, as opposed to a private religious school where one teaches mathematics or science or literature?

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“That is the question, what does it mean to be engaged in the ministry?” she added. “It cannot be that you are employed by a religious institution.”

In its statement on Mr Labanca’s firing, the diocese provided an excerpt from his employment contract for teachers, which states: “The teacher is essential to the ministry of conveying the faith and acknowledges that he is a minister of Roman Catholicism. Is. .”

Mr Labanka said the church’s description of his role was “extremely subjective” and not “minister with capital-M” and that he had not made such a contract for his job in the parish.

“I would say there is a strong label for what I do,” he said. “I would never have called myself a minister. And in school I was Mr Matt or Mr Matthew, I was never called a minister.”

His work with Suba began in 2005 as a pay-the-bills side gig that many actors in New York get. This soon became a passion and their primary source of income and health insurance.

He worked as musical director in Corpus Christi from 2005 to 2007, then quit performing in theater shows including the Broadway production of “Young Frankenstein” before returning to work in 2012. Three years later he started his job at St. Joseph Catholic Academy.

Mr Labanca said he did not keep his sexual orientation a secret at work, although he “did not make a big deal of my marriage” because he was aware of the church’s teaching on homosexuality.

“It’s not like I’ve been put off,” he said. “I respect that some people in the community may not understand or see what their Catechism or their culture or their narrow-mindedness might have told them about this issue. I was respectful in that regard, But people knew I was gay.”

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