N.C. Catholic Church Music Director Fired For Marrying Partner
St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte, N.C., fired its musical director last month because he married his partner in New York, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Steav Bates-Congdon, 61, began working at St. Gabriel in 2004 and parishioners claim that Bates-Congdon was open about being gay since his first interview with the church. Even his partner of 23 years, Bill Bates-Congdon, 47, was often involved in the church’s music department and ended up joining the hand-bell choir.
St. Gabriel is one of the biggest parishes in the city and has about 10,000 members.
The couple married in a state park in Upstate New York on Oct. 15. Bates-Congdon returned to St. Gabriel on Jan. 19 after a going on a honeymoon and having to go to the hospital due to his appendix rupturing. Instead of being greeted by his co-workers, Rev. Frank O’Rourke, a pastor and a colleague of Bates-Congdon, handed the music director a note.
"Employees of St. Gabriel ... are expected to live within the moral tradition of the Church...Your civil marriage stands in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church, therefore ending your employment with us, effective today," the note read.
"Mr. Congdon’s ’civil union,’ is a public statement in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage as a lifelong, exclusive covenant between one man and one woman," the spokesman for the Dioceses of Charlotte, David Hains, said.
Bates-Congdon claims that he told O’Rourke about his marriage plans and says the pastor said he was happy for him but could not give him his blessing. Bates-Congdon understood but says that he doesn’t understand why O’Rourke didn’t warn him that he could be fired.
"Bill and I would have pulled the plug and postponed it until some time when it wouldn’t have mattered, like in retirement," Bates-Congdon said. "This was never about activism or forcing the church to make a stand - or even Bill and me making a stand. It was for the sheer joy of celebrating the fact that we could get married that we decided we would."
Several people from the community were outraged at the church’s decision to can Bates-Congdon, such as church member and choir singer Cate Stadelman.
"It’s the injustice of it," she said. "The Church doesn’t recognize this marriage. The state of North Carolina doesn’t recognize this marriage. What changed from Oct. 14 to Oct. 15? And then there’s the fact that this has absolutely no bearing on his ability to do a fabulous job."
St. Gabriel stands by its decision, however. Bretty Denton, a parish council member, said that parish leaders were careful and thoughtful about their choice.
"It was something that was necessary because (the marriage) was opposite to the teachings of the Church," he says, "and that led to a parting of the ways."
The firing may be legal under the Supreme Court due to a ruling made in January, which allows churches and their schools to hire and fire ministerial employees without interference from the government. In 2000, a lower court ruling in Raleigh, NC, said that music directors were members of the church’s ministerial staff.
The church will pay Bates-Congdon until June. The music director hopes to find another job.
Despite its having crossed from deep red to purple in recent years. North Carolina is still part of the Deep South, and its lack of protections for LGBT tar heels reflects that.
The state does not recognize any form of legal same-sex partnership and does not have any law that allows or prohibits same-sex couples from adopting children. When it comes to discrimination protection, there are laws that protect individuals based on race, color, religion, nationality and country of origin but not on sexual orientation or gender identity. The same applies to the state’s hate crime laws.
A Public Policy Polling survey from Dec. 2001, showed that 30 percent of voters supported gay marriage but 57 percent believed it should be illegal and 13 percent were unsure.