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Catholic students protest gay teacher's resignation

Hundreds at a Catholic school walked out of class to join a sit-in for their vice principal, who resigned after officials learned he was married to another man.
A wedding cake for same-sex couples.
 A wedding cake for same-sex couples.

Updated on December 23, 2013

The doors were closed at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Washington, Friday, December 20--one day after students effectively shut down the school over the dismissal of their vice principal, Mark Zmuda, who recently married another man.

The official reason for canceling class was weather-related, though senior Caelan Colburn suspects the protest he helped organize a day earlier had something to do with it.

“We really only got an inch of snow,” he said. “Half the reason is because of what happened yesterday. They know that no one would go to class.”

Hundreds of students at Eastside and neighboring high schools walked out of class on Thursday to join a sit-in for “Mr. Z”--as he was known on Twitter, via the hashtag #KeepMrZ2013. The popular vice principal and swim coach resigned earlier in the week after officials at the Catholic high school learned he had married his partner last July.

Washington is one of the 17 states where gay couples can legally wed. But Catholic teaching states that homosexual inclinations constitute an “objective disorder” and indicate a tendency toward “intrinsic moral evil.” The Catholic Church forbids same-sex marriage.

Zmuda, like all teachers at the school, signed a contract stating he would abide by this doctrine.

“He’s a wonderful man, he performed beautifully, and we’re going to give him the finest recommendation we possibly can to help him secure a position,” said Mike Patterson, attorney for Eastside Catholic. But Zmuda “understood that his contract required him to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church, and he knew that he was not doing that because of his marriage.”

Patterson said school officials confronted Zmuda after a couple of teachers heard him talking about his marriage. It was his own decision to resign, Patterson stressed.

But students were still upset on Thursday, and refused to go back to class even after the school’s president and principal told them their hands were tied.

“The dismissal of the Vice Principal was based on the Archdiocese of Seattle’s authority over a Catholic school,” Principal Polly Skinner wrote in an e-mail to an Eastside graduate, obtained by KIRO 7. “We are saddened and as a Catholic school, bound by Catholic Teaching regarding Same Sex marriage.”

Though Pope Francis has signaled a softening toward homosexuality--part of a progressive approach that Time magazine cited in making him "Person of the Year"--the Vatican’s official position has not changed. Bradley Strode, another student at Eastside Catholic and Colburn’s best friend, started a petition calling on the Catholic Church to drop its opposition to same-sex marriage.

“United, we want this policy changed so that the Catholic Church can achieve its mission of acting with unconditional love in every situation,” reads the petition, which has so far received over 26,000 signatures.

During the protest Thursday, Colburn said he heard Zmuda telling the students what they were doing was “one of the most meaningful things anyone had ever done for him.” The 17-year-old never met with the former vice principal before, but he had friends who called Zmuda their “lifeline.”

“His overall goal was to better the school,” said Colburn, who was startled, after the protest, to find Zmuda picking up trash around the school.

“Even though he didn’t work there anymore, it shows how much he cared about Eastside Catholic.”