The past five months have been eventful for Steav Bates-Congdon.
First he got married. Then he got fired.
The popular music director at St. Gabriel Catholic Church in south Charlotte lost his job last month for marrying his longtime partner in New York, one of seven states to recognize same-sex marriages.
Under a recent Supreme Court ruling, the firing appears legal.
North Carolina doesn't recognize same-sex unions. Voters will decide in May whether to add a constitutional ban.
The Catholic Church considers homosexual behavior a sin, and Bishop Peter Jugis, who heads the Diocese of Charlotte and is the spiritual leader of Catholics in a 46-county area, has been a strong supporter of legally restricting marriage to a man and a woman.
With some 10,000 members, St. Gabriel is one of the largest Catholic congregations in the state. Bates-Congdon, 61, a former Methodist minister and now an Episcopalian, joined the staff in 2004. Parishioners say he's been open about his sexual orientation since his first job interviews. Bill Bates-Congdon, his partner of 23 years, soon became a familiar figure around the music program and eventually joined the hand-bell choir.
On Oct. 15, with several St. Gabriel members on hand, the pair said vows at a state park on the shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Then Steav Bates-Congdon returned to work.
On Jan. 19, just back from a honeymoon trip to Mexico, followed by an emergency stay at Carolinas Medical Center for a ruptured appendix, he checked out of the hospital and dropped by St. Gabriel.
There, he was handed a note by the Rev. Frank O'Rourke, the pastor with whom he had closely worked for more than four years.
It read: "Employees of St. Gabriel ... are expected to live within the moral tradition of the Church. ... Your civil marriage stands in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church, therefore ending your employment with us, effective today."
Contacted to discuss the firing, O'Rourke referred all questions to diocesan spokesman David Hains.
Jugis was not available for comment. But in response to a list of Charlotte Observer questions, Hains wrote:
"Mr. Congdon's 'civil union,' is a public statement in direct opposition to the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage as a lifelong, exclusive covenant between one man and one woman."
Bates-Congdon, who has produced music for Catholic churches for some 30 years, says he told O'Rourke about his wedding plans within days of his June proposal to Bill "because I didn't want him blindsided."
He recalls O'Rourke's response:
Congratulations, I'm very happy for you. But I can't give you my blessing.
"I wouldn't ask you to," Bates-Congdon says he replied.
More than six months passed before he was fired.
Now, Bates-Congdon wonders why his boss and friend didn't warn him of any problems, "why (he) didn't pull me aside and say, 'Dude, this is a really bad idea.' "
Had O'Rourke raised any concerns, Bates-Congdon says, "Bill and I would have pulled the plug and postponed it until some time when it wouldn't have mattered, like in retirement.
"This was never about activism or forcing the church to make a stand - or even Bill and me making a stand. It was for the sheer joy of celebrating the fact that we could get married that we decided we would."
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