Several other cases of “fired because you’re married” around the nation have involved Roman Catholic institutions. Among those who’ve lost their jobs in these situations are Mark Zmuda, let go as assistant principal of a Seattle-area school; Colleen Simon, who ran a food pantry at a church in Kansas City, Mo.; Mark Bencomo, who taught at a school near Los Angeles; Tippi McCullough, who lost her teaching position in Little Rock; and Colin Collette, who’d been a music director at a Chicago-area church. There have been some cases at conservative Protestant institutions too. (The phenomenon also inspired a memorable fictional treatment in last year’s acclaimed indie film Love Is Strange, starring Alfred Molina as a teacher who loses his job in a Catholic school after marrying his longtime partner, played by John Lithgow.)
Some of these people are, like Barrett, fighting back in court. Whether they will win depends on how broadly courts interpret religious exemptions — if they should apply to clergy only or if teachers, musicians, and food pantry workers have “ministerial” positions. Wolfson says that he could perhaps understand a parochial school expecting a religion teacher to adhere to church dogma, but to keep a gay person from teaching a secular subject makes no sense.
Wu expresses a similar view. “The courts have struck a very careful balance between religion and nondiscrimination,” he says. Some religious institutions want to see religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws apply to a wider range of jobs, but “we should refuse to go down that road,” Wu says.
Then there’s the problem only a minority of states ban job discrimination against LGBT people, and no national law prohibits it. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, in a variety of iterations, has been pending for decades in Congress, and last year GLAD, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations withdrew support for the latest version of the bill because it contained an overly broad religious exemption.