A music teacher who was fired from a Catholic school in New York City because he married his boyfriend has accused the Brooklyn Diocese of “capricious” discrimination.
Matthew LaBanca was removed from his role at St Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Queens and as music director at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Manhattan on 13 October after someone informed Diocese officials that he’d entered into a same-sex marriage in August.
“I’m stripped of both of my jobs, all of my employment, my health insurance and, most importantly, the community life that has meant so much to me, not because of my work performance – not in the slightest – but because I’m gay,” Mr LaBanca told the New York Daily News.
Mr LaBanca recounted the ordeal in a YouTube video over the weekend, explaining how he was told that he had violated a clause in his contract to “support and exemplify by his/her conduct Catholic doctrine and morality”.
He said Diocese officials spent nearly six weeks discussing his employment after a community member reported his wedding to Rowan Meyer in what he described as “an apparent act of righteousness”.
The Diocese, which oversees parishes in Brooklyn and Queens, confirmed Mr LaBanca’s firing in a statement to the Daily News, citing his purported violation of the morality clause in his contract.
“Despite changes to New York State law in 2011 legalising same-sex marriage, Church law is clear,” the statement read. “In his case, it has been determined that he can no longer fulfil his obligations as a minister of the faith at either the school or the parish.”
Mr LaBanca called his firing “a capricious, discriminatory practice against the LGBTQ community”, adding: “There are so many people not living up to church teachings who are not being targeted this way.”
He acknowledged that the Diocese likely did not violate any city or state anti-discrimination laws, because those laws provide broad exceptions for religious institutions, but said: “Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.”
Mr LaBanca said the principal at St Joseph’s fought hard to block his termination, but was ultimately overruled by Diocese officials.
He said he was offered a severance package equivalent to three months of his salary but turned it down because it came with a “gag order” preventing him from publicly sharing details about his firing.
Mr LaBanca has been described as a “beloved” member of the school and church communities he served, with the mother of a former student calling him “love incarnate”.
“This teacher was instrumental in bringing joy to a school that was not joyful for my son,” the mother, Collete Martin, told the Daily News. “He has a lot of community support.”
Ms Martin criticised the Diocese for conducting discussions about Mr LaBanca’s firing in secret, saying: “There was no chance for anyone to advocate for him.”
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