Ken Bencomo (photo: Rachel Luna, San Bernardino Sun)
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
The folks at St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora apparently have an answer to that seemingly rhetorical question. The Catholic high school fired Ken Bencomo, the head of its English Department and a teacher there for the past 17 years, after he married his partner in a same-sex marriage ceremony in San Bernardino.
The firing came days after a photo of the wedding appeared on the front page of the local Daily Bulletin newspaper, but years after students and staff at the all-girl school knew of Bencomo’s sexual orientation. Several staff members had reportedly met his partner.
Bencomo and Christopher Persky were among the first gay couples to line up July 1 at the San Bernardino County Assessor-Recorder's Office to get married after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. The teacher was notified on July 12 that he was being terminated because his marriage violated church teachings, according to his lawyer, Patrick McGarrigle.
Students and alumni immediately responded by starting an online petition, which quickly gathered more than 12,500 signatures. The petition describes Bencomo as “a beloved mentor, confidant, and educator. His passion for teaching, as well as his witty personality, have made him a favorite teacher among many students.”
Bencomo teaches multiple subjects at the school, has been Yearbook moderator and dance coach in addition to heading the English Department. He signed a new contract in May to teach in the coming school year.
The teacher hasn't filed a lawsuit, yet, and it remains to be seen what the legal system could do for him. The same U.S. Supreme Court that didn’t kill gay marriage in California also recently sanctioned (pdf) the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers based on religious doctrine. Federal legislation bans discrimination for a host of reasons, but sexual identification is not among them.
“Unfortunately for the students at the countless religious schools in our country, the legal thumb usually is on the discrimination side of the scales,” Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel and director of the Lambda Legal Law and Policy Project, told the Huffington Post.
A statement from St. Lucy’s explained the reasoning behind the termination: “As a Benedictine school, St. Lucy's is a community for those who wish to express Christian values in education and develop personal and academic excellence.”
Apparently, the pope needs to bone up on his understanding of Christian values.