Morality Clause


In Love Is Strange, a movie I'd like to see that opens in a couple of big cities today, but not yet in Portland, a choir director loses his teaching job for getting married. Why would marriage cost him his job? Because he's gay. Wait, how can it be legal for a gay couple to marry, and simultaneously legal to fire a man for being gay? Because he teaches at a Catholic school, and religious institutions are allowed to practice job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Ludicrous, you say? How could this happen in our modern, tolerant world? Ten years ago, it almost happened to me.

No, I was not, and am not, gay; nor was I getting married at the time. What I was doing was signing a petition opposing Oregon's "Defense of Marriage" ballot measure. The faith community I belonged to at the time was affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and took out an ad in the Oregonian listing the names of every signatory as a demonstration that people of faith were opposed to the ballot measure. Still all well and good--my name is common enough to be almost generic (look in any phone book, if you can find such a thing, and you'll see a long list of Mark Andersons)--but to give the ad extra weight, those of us who were ordained had the title "Rev." affixed to our names. And that's where I got in trouble.

From 2004-5, I was teaching music in a Catholic school in Vancouver, Washington. My principal lived in Tigard, Oregon, and subscribed to the Oregonian. On the day the ad came out, she called me into her office. The newspaper was on her desk, open to the page with the ad. She pointed to my name in the list, and asked, "Is this you?" And that's where it hit the fan.

Being ordained had helped me get this job. Even though I was a Protestant, I knew so much about theology and liturgy that teaching the children to sing service music, and playing piano for mass, were second nature to me. I could speak the language, interpret the metaphors, go through the motions. And teaching at this school was, in many ways, ideal: the children were better behaved than at any other school where I've taught, and because it was a private school, there were no children with learning challenges. My music room was spacious and well-equipped, I had plenty of prep time, and I was encouraged to teach private lessons in my classroom after school.

There was just one hitch: to take the job, I had to assent to the morality clause in the contract.

Morality clause? In the 21st century, someone's making you sign a morality clause?

That's right. I don't have the specific wording available to me, but here's a similar clause from the Diocese of Oakland, California:  In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese..."

Clauses like this are standard in Catholic school contracts. They've become controversial lately, as some dioceses are making the language more explicit, spelling out specific actions that are not permitted, including not just getting gay-married, but promoting the very idea of gay marriage. Which is what I had done in 2004, leading the principal to call me into her office and tell me that, while she wasn't planning to take action, if a parent put two and two together and complained, I would be out on my Protestant ass.

I didn't ultimately lose that job over the morality clause, though it figured prominently in my choice to look for a job elsewhere--a choice which did cost me the job, as the principal's feelings were hurt--as well as my decision to teach in public schools for the remainder of my career. (Though the music job at Catlin Gabel would be oh so sweet...) I was especially cautious for the remainder of the school year about my words and actions, and almost paranoid when off campus about publicizing any of my left-wing opinions. Had this blog existed then, I probably would not have gotten the job in the first place, and if I had, I would have been in hot water almost immediately for the opinions I write about.

And ten years later, Catholic schools are still forcing this clause on teachers. It's not just a movie plot: gay persons, and those in enough sympathy with their plight to stand in public solidarity with them, can be summarily fired by their religious employers. Gay customers continue to be turned away by business owners, and now religiously affiliated owners of secular businesses are using their faith as an excuse to deny employees benefits that offend the owners' personal beliefs.

The tide of public opinion is turning to an obvious conclusion: discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is an abomination. Hiding behind "morality" is ironic, hypocritical, and will ultimately consign religion to irrelevance. It takes the basest of human instincts, the rejection of the other, and projects it on God, transforming bigotry into a virtue.

For a religion to be true, its God must be all-loving. Any religion that rejects persons because of who they love, and further rejects those who stand with others because they have been rejected, to the extent of the rejection, is no true religion. (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln.)


  1. Those last two paragraphs! BOOM. Way to lay it down and preach it, Reverend.


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