Brooklyn Diocese used a legal loophole to fire the teacher after he married his longtime partner.
Prior to his termination, Matthew LaBlanca held two titles while working for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York City. He was a music teacher and parish music director. In addition to this, for the past 16 years, he played the organ and led the choir on and off at Corpus Christi Church in Queens. In 2015, he also began working at St. Joseph Catholic Academy, also as a music teacher. However, things changed when LaBlanca, a gay man, married his partner in August this year. On October 13, the Diocese of Brooklyn fired the teacher as the church does not condone same-sex marriage. The Diocese has used a legal loophole to validate their decision, The New York Times reports.
As per state and New York City laws, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. However, religious institutions are permitted to favor members of their faith in various employment settings, including schools and houses of worship. This does not necessarily allow them to discriminate on the basis of traits like sex or sexual orientation—that is unless they are hiring for a ministerial position. In this case, the Catholic Church can refuse to a variety of marginalized groups, such as women and, like LaBlanca, those in same-sex civil marriages.
"When he was fired, Mr. LaBanca was offered a $20,000 severance package if he signed a confidentiality agreement that would bar him from discussing his firing, he said. He declined."— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) October 27, 2021
A Gay Music Teacher Got Married. The Brooklyn Diocese Fired Him. https://t.co/sxacddvccC
In a statement regarding his termination, the Diocese of Brooklyn referred to LaBlanca as a "music teacher and minister," categorically stating that he was fired as his marriage reportedly violates the requirement that ministers comply with church teachings. "Despite changes to New York State law in 2011 legalizing same-sex marriage, Church law is clear," the statement reads. In his case, it has been determined that he can no longer fulfill his obligations as a minister of the faith at either the school or the parish." The former music teacher was offered a $20,000 severance package as long as he signed a confidentiality agreement barring him from discussing his termination. He declined.
A gay man lost his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school and was fired as music director at his church just weeks after he married his husband. Where is the Christian love in the Catholic church? https://t.co/JRszeuVVqQ— Peter Tatchell (@PeterTatchell) October 30, 2021
LaBlanca has instead chosen to publicize his termination in order to highlight the church’s use of the legal loophole to target folks from the LGBTQ+ community (while overlooking others who violate "church teachings"). He explained, "There are many people whose lives don’t conform to church teachings. People who don’t go to church on Sunday. People who are on birth control. People who are divorced and get remarried." The teacher also discussed what it means to align with the Catholic faith, especially given the pastoral approach toward queer people adopted by Pope Francis.
If Pope Francis said, "Do not throw gay people out of the family," people would still deny he said it, doubt he said it, or explain it away.— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) October 24, 2020
No matter what he says about #LGBT people, some simply refuse to hear it.
Btw, that last quote is from 2018: https://t.co/EeN7aw27Xc pic.twitter.com/2PL9lAlh5Q
Furthermore, LaBlanca argued that the church’s description of his role was "extremely subjective" and not "minister with a capital M." He claimed he signed no such contract for his job at the parish, stating, "I would say that’s a strong label for what I do. I would never have labeled myself a minister. And at school I was Mr. Matt, or Mr. Matthew, I was never called a minister." The teacher added that he was open about his sexuality while employed with the Diocese of Brooklyn. "It’s not as though I am closeted," LaBlanca affirmed. "I respect that some people in the community may not understand or may not be able to see beyond what their catechism or their culture or their parochial mindset may have informed them about this issue. I was respectful in that regard, but people knew I was gay."