Teacher Fired for Being in Same-Sex Marriage Can Sue Archdiocese, Appeals Court Rules

An Indiana state appeals court ruled Tuesday that a lawsuit filed by a teacher who was fired by a Catholic high school in Indianapolis for being in a same-sex marriage can continue, according to The Associated Press.

The ruling among a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals was unanimous, and reverses the decision of a Marion County court that dismissed Joshua Payne-Elliott's suit against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Payne-Elliott worked for Cathedral High School as a world language and social studies teacher for 13 years before being fired in June 2019 for marrying Layton Payne-Elliott, another teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in 2017.

The firing occurred after the archdiocese mandated that all schools under its umbrella enforce a morality clause that would ban employees from entering into same-sex marriages.

Joshua was fired by Cathedral, but Brebeuf refused to fire Layton, causing the archdiocese to attempt to strip Brebeuf of its status as a Catholic school, which prompted intervention from The Vatican.

Joshua filed his lawsuit in July 2019, accusing the archdiocese of interfering with his contract with Cathedral, and saying they should not have had authority to require his firing because his employment contract was with the school, not the church.

The lawsuit was dismissed in May, on the basis of several trial court rules, of which the appeals panel said were either incorrect or prematurely used to throw the case out, according to The Indianapolis Star.

By reversing the decision, the appeals court sends Payne-Elliott's case back to court, a decision praised by LGBTQ advocates.

"Joshua Payne-Elliott just wanted the chance to make his case in court. The Indiana Court of Appeals today ruled that he will get that opportunity," Greg Nevins, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights group, said in a statement Tuesday, calling the reversal "wonderful."

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Joshua, Layton Payne-Elliott, Catholic Church, Vatican
A view St. Peter's Basilica during the Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals held by Pope Francis inside St. Peter's Basilica on November 28, 2020 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Vatican reportedly got involved with the case of Joshua and Layton Payne-Elliott, two men in a same-sex marriage in Indianapolis, when the Jesuit school at which Layton worked refused to fire him for being in the marriage, and the Indianapolis Archdiocese tried to strip the school of its Catholic affiliation. Joshua was fired from his job at another local Catholic school, and an appeals court ruled to allow his lawsuit against the archdiocese to continue Tuesday. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

The archdiocese asked the lower court in August 2019 to dismiss Payne-Elliott's lawsuit, citing the First Amendment as a defense.

An attorney representing the archdiocese in the case said Wednesday in a statement that the "Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutional right of Catholic schools to hire teachers who fully support the schools' Catholic mission."

"Today's ruling doesn't address this core issue, and we're confident that when the courts finally do, they will respect this fundamental right," said Luke Goodrich, the vice president and senior counsel at Becket, a legal organization focused on religious liberty.