Teacher wants apology from Catholic school that fired her for marrying partner

Danny Johnston, AP
Barb Mariani (left) and spouse Tippi McCullough at a Little Rock, Ark., news conference Tuesday. CHUCK BARTELS [ap]

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A teacher who lost her job at a Catholic girls’ high school in Little Rock after she married her female partner said Tuesday she wants an apology from the school but isn’t asking for her job back.

Tippi McCullough, backed by the national gay activist group Human Rights Campaign, also wants Mount St. Mary Academy to adopt a nondiscrimination policy.

Danny Johnston, APBarb Mariani (left) and spouse Tippi McCullough at a Little Rock, Ark., news conference Tuesday.

Danny Johnston, AP
Barb Mariani (left) and spouse Tippi McCullough at a Little Rock, Ark., news conference Tuesday.

The school gave no indication it would consider apologizing or changing its policies.

On Oct. 16, McCullough married her partner, Barb Mariani, in New Mexico, where same-sex marriage is legal. McCullough said she received a call from her principal less than an hour after the ceremony and was told that she’d lose her job if she was married to a woman.

“I was devastated,” McCullough said. “I would never have purposefully blown my life up like this.”

Mariani, who is a deputy prosecutor in Pulaski County, said the school is incorrectly applying the morals code cont ained in its employment contract with McCullough.

The policy doesn’t explicitly ban same-sex marriage but requires employees to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The women spoke at an event organized by the Washington, D.C.-based activist group Human Rights Campaign, which collected 50,000 online petition signatures in support of the women. Organizers said they planned to deliver the petition to the school.

Mount St. Mary President Karen Flake issued a statement saying it was against school policy to publicly discuss a personnel matter, “out of the respect for the privacy of all of our faculty members, just as we respect and safeguard our students’ privacy.”

McCullough said at the news conference that she’d given the school permission to specify why she was fired. She said she wouldn’t feel comfortable returning to Mount St. Mary in light of the circumstances of her firing.

Flake said the school is being consistent in its approach to McCullough’s marriage.

“Sometimes adherence to the church’s teachings may be difficult, challenging and/or unpopular. We recognize that some may disagree with our actions, and we respect their right to do so,” Flake said.

She went on to note that there are “many others who recognize that, as a Catholic school, our actions must be aligned with what we believe and teach.”

Federal law allows religious institutions to make employment decisions based on terms of their faith, and the Human Rights Campaign didn’t accuse the school of violating the law.

Article continues below

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the school’s decision was “morally destructive” and said signatures for the online petition came from all 50 states, including many from Arkansas.

Two former Mount St. Mary students joined McCullough and Mariani on stage, as did current student Gillian Gullet, a sophomore.

Gullet said that while learning about the civil rights movement, she “always thought if I lived in that time, I would be on the right side of things.”

“Now, this is happening, and I am on the right side of this,” she said, adding that marriage “should be celebrated and not degraded.”

Flake’s statement didn’t address McCullough’s call for an apology and gave no indication that a nondiscrimination policy is under discussion.

© 2013, Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

This Story Filed Under

Comments