Texas Anglican School Denies Lesbian Parents’ Child Entry

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 23, 2010

The child of a lesbian couple in a Fort Worth suburb has been rejected by an Anglican school because of her mothers' sexuality and domestic living arrangement.

The two mothers, Jill and Tracy Harrison, celebrated a marriage ceremony four years ago in Canada. Though their wedding carries no legal weight in Texas, they nonetheless consider themselves to be spouses. Their daughter, Olivia, was born to Jill Harrison; the couple used a sperm donor, reported local news service NBCDFW.com.

Olivia was rejected by St. Vincent's school, an Anglican school, only days before classes went into session on Aug. 23, the news site reported. Olivia's mothers say it's because they are lesbians; the school's officials imply that this is correct. St. Vincent's is no longer an Episcopalian school, note officials; rather, St. Vincent's has broken from the mainstream and is now aligned with anti-gay Anglican splinter faith The Anglican Church in North America, which has left the Episcopalian faith over the issue of gay clerics and same-sex families.

"We are a church affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, and it is their policy that we don't provide services to individuals or families that do not behave properly," the school's head, Kenneth Monk, told the media. "We're going off our canons that say, 'The Anglican Church in North America affirms our Lord's teaching that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong of one man and one woman.' "

"I am horribly disappointed," Jill Harrison told the press. "In fact, we are in the 21st century and we are still dealing with this issue. We should just move on. Denying my daughter education based on who I end up sleeping with at the end of the day makes me furious."

"It's hard to believe that a place that's supposed to take in and teach children about God and the basics of religion would actually discriminate against her because of who we are," added Jill's wife, Tracy.

Though the Anglican Church in North America has only recently begun to coalesce as anti-gay Episcopalian churches break away from the mainstream of their religion, the global Anglican Church has been roiled by issues of women's roles in the church for decades. The issue shifted to the role of gay clerics and recognition of same-sex families after the ordination of openly gay American bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003, and the church's fractures have deepened and accelerated since then.

In England, also, the faith's adherents have been divided over the issue of LGBT clerics and congregants. Earlier this year, a UK lesbian couple said they were forced out of an Anglican church in Dorset, England, for having held hands during services. Parish members at St. Nicholas Anglican church, located in the Dorset village of Corfe Mullen, accused Kersten Pegden and Nina Laure of "overtly sexual" conduct, but no similar complaints were lodged against heterosexual couples for the same public displays during church services.

The couple felt forced to withdraw from the parish. Their children had played roles in church life at St. Nicholas, the article said, with Pegden's daughter having sung in the choir and her son having served as an usher. Now the family attends the open and affirming Metropolitan Community Church.

"St. Nicholas welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds and gives private pastoral care to those in need," the church said in a statement. "Issues have arisen with members of the congregation which are being addressed compassionately."

Tensions in the Anglican Church, which has 77 million members worldwide, started decades ago over questions of what roles women should be allowed to assume. Some hardliners reject the notion of women as bishops--and indeed, those elements are pondering a conversion to Catholicism, a move that the Roman Catholic Church would welcome. The Vatican has already issued an invitation to conservative Anglicans who wish to join the Catholic faith. Converts would be allowed to retain some elements of the Anglican Church, such as priests being free to marry. Pope Benedict XVI has said that an influx of Anglicans to the Catholic tradition would be "a blessing for the entire Church."

Six years ago, tension in the church was exacerbated with the elevation of an openly gay Episcopalian cleric named Gene Robinson to the rank of bishop. The idea that an openly gay man who was living a family life with another man drove some in the Anglican church to the point of breaking away; a global schism loomed.

Three years ago, the Anglican church sought to avoid that schism by pursuing a moratorium on the elevation of gay clergy to the status of bishop, a moratorium that ended earlier this year with the elevation of a Los Angeles lesbian cleric, Mary Glasspool, to the status of Episcopalian bishop.

Last year, conservative Anglicans declared that the schism was all but upon the church. That episode was one more in a string of occasions on which demands were made from Anglicans seeking to convince North America's Episcopalians to "repent" for their support of GLBT members of the faith. Another splinter group of the Episcopalians, The Anglican Church in North America, formed last June; the new splinter does not accept that gays might serve God in certain capacities.

Anglican Turmoil, Catholic Rejection

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who is the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is one of the faith's liberals, having supported equality in the church for gays and lesbians in the past. But for a time, Williams' speeches tacked rightward as he sought to reassure hardliners for whom no compromise is acceptable; for that rightward swerve, Williams offered his apologies in a Feb. 9 speech to the faith's General Synod.

"There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them," Williams told the Synod. "I have been criticized for doing just this and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression."

Williams spoke of the church's "sacrificial and exemplary priests," among whom are gay men, and also noted that the faith has many gay and lesbian adherents. But the Archbishop did not abandon his attempts to keep the church intact, appealing to anti-gay hardliners to soften their stance and suggesting that the faith might adopt a "two-tiered" system that would relegate some dioceses to less than fully participating status. "It may be that the covenant creates a situation in which there are different levels of relationship between those claiming the name of Anglican," Williams told the Synod, which is the church's legislative body. "I don't at all want or relish this, but suspect that, without a major change of heart all round, it may be an unavoidable aspect of limiting the damage we are already doing to ourselves."

As for women serving in the capacity of bishops, Williams opined that although "Most hold that the ordination of women as bishops is good, something that will enhance our faithfulness to Christ and our integrity in mission," he also said that allowing women greater equality in the church's hierarchy would not be worth it if the result were to "corrupt [reform] or compromise it fatally," as in the possible scenario of opponents to women bishops leaving in droves for Catholicism. Above all, Williams cautioned, a schism in the faith would be a "betrayal" of the church's purpose.

However, Williams also lashed out at critics of a plan for church unity outlined in the Anglican Covenant, firmly contradicting the fears cited as motives for the criticisms. "There is no supreme court envisaged and the constitutional liberties of each province are explicitly safeguarded," Williams stated.

The Archbishop had words for all sides in the debate, lamenting what he called "the reduction of Christian relationships to vicious polemic and stony-faced litigation" as the argument over gays and women has continued.

Such instances of children being denied a place at parochial schools because their parents are gay or lesbian are not unheard of, but more typically they take place when Catholic schools reject the offspring of same-sex couples. Earlier this year, a church preschool in Boulder, Colorado, sparked controversy by denying two children places in the school because they had two mothers. The Denver Archdiocese responded to criticism with a statement to the effect that the children's exclusion was the fault of their mothers, for being a committed same-sex couple.

The statement noted that the "principal reason parents place their children in Archdiocese of Denver Schools is to reinforce the Catholic beliefs and values that the family seeks to live at home." However, the statement went on, "Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment."

The statement also said, "No person shall be admitted as a student in any Catholic school unless that person and his/her parent(s) subscribe to the school's philosophy and agree to abide by the educational policies and regulations of the school and Archdiocese."

The church holds that gays are sexually "disordered" people who may not choose their orientation, but whose sexual expressions of intimacy with life partners of the same gender are "inherently evil." The church says that God intends gays and lesbians to forsake family life and lead celibate lives. Moreover, the church has said that it is a form of "violence" for same-sex parents to raise their children, even though they may provide supportive, loving homes.

But the array of voices and perspectives on the issue indicate that those who denounce the decision are not simply opponents of the church's teachings on gays. Some question the church's consistency in applying its standards to families that do not measure up to church teachings. In a March 8 article at the "Get Schooled" section of the website for the newspaper Atlanta Journal-Constitution, columnist Maureen Downey wrote, "As a Catholic school graduate myself, I am surprised only because I had classmates whose parents were divorced, which is also in open discord with church teachings." Added Downey, "The divorce question is not addressed in the story, but I would like to know the archdiocese's position on children of divorce in their schools."

In Massachusetts earlier this year, a similar situation occurred when the principal at a Catholic school rrefused enrollment to the child of a gay couple. When an outcry resulted, Cardinal Sean O'Malley lent his support to the principal, stating that, "It is true that we welcome people from all walks of life," O'Malley wrote. "But we recognize that, regardless of the circumstances involved, we maintain our responsibility to teach the truths of our faith, including those concerning sexual morality and marriage."

Added O'Malley, ""Catholic schools exist for the good of the children and our admission standards must reflect that," he wrote. "We have never had categories of people who were excluded."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.