Support grows for fired gay Catholic schoolteacher

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c. 2013 Religion News Service

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Support for a Roman Catholic high school teacher fired for marrying his same-sex partner continued to grow Monday (Aug. 12) as the number of people signing an online petition topped 58,000 people.

Ken Bencomo taught English at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora for 17 years. He was fired last month after an article in the Southern California newspaper Inland Valley Daily Bulletin published a story and video about his wedding.

Bencomo, 45, and his husband, Christopher Persky, 32, were one of the first gay couples to marry on July 1, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

His termination is not the first firing of a gay Catholic schoolteacher. In Columbus, Ohio, teacher Carla Hale was fired from a Catholic high school in April, after someone pointed out that she listed her lesbian partner’s name in her mother’s obituary.

And in January, Nicholas Coppola was stripped of his volunteer posts as a religious education teacher, lector and visitation minister at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Oceanside, N.Y., after he married his same-sex partner.

“I just believe it’s a complete injustice,” said Brittany Littleton, 23, who graduated from St. Lucy’s in 2008, and launched the petition to reinstate Bencomo on the web-based platform, Change.org. “I was really horrified and sickened and so ashamed of my school for making this decision.”

An aspiring actress, Littleton also led an Aug. 8 protest at the school, which she says drew about 300 people.

The Catholic Church is opposed to gay marriage.

Bencomo, who many students affectionately refer to as “Mr. B.,” was head of the English department, as well as extracurricular activities such as dance and yearbook. Students say most people at the school were aware of Bencomo’s sexual orientation. They were shocked to hear of his firing through social-media platforms, such as Twitter.

According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, a growing number of Catholics support same-sex marriage. The March poll, which surveyed close to 500 Catholics, found that 54 percent of Catholic voters support same-sex marriage, while 38 percent oppose it.

St. Lucy’s media consultant, Robert Alaniz, said the school stands firmly by its decision. Bencomo was not fired for being gay, Alaniz added, but for making his same-sex marriage a “public spectacle.”

Neither Bencomo nor his attorney responded to requests for comment.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles would not comment on the firing, noting that St. Lucy’s was not part of the archdiocese’s school system. The private Catholic school is guided by the educational standards of the archdiocese, however.

Students said they would continue to press the school on the matter.

“There’s been no sense of remorse or understanding of even what a hurtful and prejudicial decision this is,” Littleton said. “So my plan really is just to keep going until they realize that. A lot of it really has to do with church doctrine, so this fight is going to have to continue on past St. Lucy’s.”