An advocacy group promoting civil rights for gay people Tuesday called on Mount St. Mary Academy to institute a nondiscrimination policy and to apologize for forcing a longtime teacher to resign or be fired for marrying her same-sex partner.
In a news conference at the South on Main restaurant in Little Rock, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the group has collected 50,000 signatures in support of a public apology for the school's response to teacher Tippi McCullough's marriage to Barbara Mariani.
McCullough said she received a phone call from the school 45 minutes after the marriage in New Mexico informing her that she would have to resign or be fired from the all-girls Catholic school because the same-sex marriage violated the morality clause of her contract.
"That's not just wrong," Griffin said. "It's morally destructive."
McCullough, along with Griffin, Mariani, two former students and one current student, spoke to more than 150 supporters who gathered at the restaurant. McCullough, who taught at the school for 15 years, said the phone call after the wedding was "shocking and especially cruel."
"If you can picture this, we had just arrived back at the car so happy and then the phone rang: You're fired," McCullough said.
McCullough said the clause in her contract said "teachers must live a lifestyle that upholds the teachings of the Catholic church," but she said it didn't mention sexuality specifically.
Griffin said the private school didn't violate any laws by forcing McCullough to resign, but its actions are still wrong.
"Just because something is legal doesn't mean it's right and doesn't mean its moral," he said. "I do want to make that distinction. None of us are saying what happened at Mount St. Mary Academy is illegal. But it's wrong."
Karen Flake, the school’s top executive, declined to discuss the specifics of the firing in an Oct. 19 story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but she noted that the Catholic school adheres "to the teachings of the Catholic Church."