Small Town Minnesota Parish Cleans House, Dismisses Gay Choir Members For Being Married

"[I was let go] because I entered into a civil marriage with another man."

Marriage equality is more than two years old, but it’s still being fought on the ground in small town America: A Catholic parish have been accused of dismissing three choir members because they were married to same-sex spouses.

Fox 9

Travis Loeffler and Bob Bernard were longtime friends and choir members at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Taylors Falls, population 1,016. Bernard was actually the music director for 16 years.

But on December 5, Father John Drees dismissed both men, they claim, because they were gay and married to other men.

Fox 9

“[I was let go] because I entered into a civil marriage with another man,” Bernard told Fox 9. “We understand what the church’s teachings are on marriage [but] at the same time I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Loeffler’s husband, Dominic Mitchell, was also asked to leave the choir at nearby St. Francis Xavier Church in Franconia. (St. Joseph and St. Francis Xavier are a parish cluster within the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-Saint Paul.)

Drees, who’s still in his first year with the parish, denies the men’s orientation was a factor in their dismissal but hasn’t given a clear reason.

After the announcement, St. Joseph’s trustee Larry Julik-Heine stepped down in protest.

“We’re all entitled to be treated with respect and dignity,” said Julik-Heine. “I examined my conscience and I just couldn’t support it.”

He still attends services at St. Joseph’s—in fact Loeffler, Bernard, and Mitchell are all welcome to attend Mass and sing from the pews. Just not in the choir.

The situation brings to light a longstanding “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in effect in choirs across the spectrum of Christian denominations: You can be gay—you might even be able to be out—but if you get married, that’s a step too far.

Choir members and church workers have been fired from Catholic churches in Illinois, Missouri, Maryland and beyond.

Australia’s Catholic church has threatened to fire teachers, nurses, and other employees who marry their same-sex partners now that equal marriage is the law of the land.

Bernard says it’s not easy to be out and faithful, “but that’s part of the deal. We have to work at it.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.