A Roman Catholic school has withdrawn its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was "in discord" with church teachings, according to one of the boys' mothers.
It's at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a U.S. Catholic school because of their parents' sexual orientation. The other instance occurred in Colorado.
The Massachusetts woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the fall. But she said she learned her son's acceptance was rescinded during a conference call Monday with Principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, the Rev. James Rafferty.
"I'm accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman," the mother said. "But I didn't expect it against my child."
Rafferty said her relationship "was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church," which holds marriage is only between a man and woman, the woman said.
She said Duggan told her teachers wouldn't be prepared to answer questions her son might have because the school's teachings about marriage conflict with what he sees in his family.
Rafferty and Duggan did not respond to requests for comment.
Archdiocese enters discussion
Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said it learned about the school's decision late Tuesday. He said the archdiocese is now in "consultation with the pastor and principal to gather more information."
Donilon said the archdiocese does not have a policy prohibiting the children of same-sex couples from attending its schools.
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage, in 2004, and the Catholic Church strongly opposed the decision. The woman, who is not married to her partner, said she didn't expect the church to approve of her relationship but didn't think it should affect her son's education.
The case mirrors a situation in Boulder, Colo., in which the Sacred Heart of Jesus school said two children of lesbian parents could not re-enroll because of their parents' sexual orientation. The Denver Archdiocese posted a statement in support of the school's decision.
Gay rights groups later took out full-page newspaper ads in protest.
In 2004, a lesbian couple in Eugene, Ore., filed a lawsuit against a Catholic elementary school after officials there declined to admit their daughter. Their lawyer said the refusal violated Eugene's city code, which forbids discrimination based on sex, marital status, domestic partnership status or sexual orientation.
Rules differ elsewhere
Meanwhile, in California some Catholic schools have allowed children of openly gay parents to enroll. For example, in 2005 officials at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa agreed to keep in the school two adopted sons of a gay couple. But the case drew an angry response from some parents and forced the school to later draw up new admission guidelines.
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Equality Council, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian parents, said as gay and lesbian families become more common more families are running into private schools that refuse to enroll their children based on parents' sexual orientation.
"It's, unfortunately, legal, but there's no question that it's wrong," Chrisler said. "It's sad that any school would deny a child an education because of who their parents are."
In Hingham, the woman said she and her partner don't regularly attend church but are Christian and wanted their son to have a strong education that also emphasized Christian values, such as compassion and empathy. They also found the size of the small K-8 school appealing and saw it as entry into a strong Catholic schooling tradition that extends through college.
The church's stance against homosexual relationships was no shock, but the woman said she didn't think it was a deal-breaker, given the church's "many variations of tolerance," such as its inclusion of families of divorce, which the church doesn't recognize.
"There are many different non-traditional families that fall under the umbrella of the Catholic Church, and I guess we assumed we would fall under one of those," she said.
The woman and her partner filled out both their names during the application process — which asked for the names of "parents" rather than mother and father — and attended an open house together at the school in February.
"We weren't hiding," she said.