Mount St. Mary Academy and the firing of Tippi McCullough 

'I just wanted to teach,' says McCullough.

On the list of controversies that seem tailor-made for public outcry, it would be tough to think of one better than: "fired a woman on her honeymoon for no other reason than because she chose the person she loves over her job." With a Twitter-friendly headline like that, you don't even really need to know that Mount St. Mary Academy is a Catholic school, or that the couple involved are lesbians. That's the kind of story that gets folks fired up, no matter what the religion or genders.

Tippi McCullough is a popular 29-year-veteran English teacher who has taught at Little Rock's all-girl Mount St. Mary Academy for the past 15 years. She also happens to be a lesbian. She's been in a committed relationship with her partner, Pulaski County deputy prosecuting attorney Barbara Mariani, for 14 years — a fact that both McCullough and Mariani insist was known and accepted by the staff and administration at the school. On Oct. 16, just before McCullough and Mariani were to be wed in a legal civil ceremony in New Mexico, where same-sex marriage is legal, Mariani said they received a phone call from an employee at the school, warning them that if they got married, McCullough would be fired.

They married anyway. Around 45 minutes after the ceremony, McCullough received another call from Mount St. Mary principal Diane Wolfe, telling McCullough that she had violated a morality clause in her contract by wedding Mariani. She was given the choice of resigning or being fired.

In her resignation letter of Oct. 18, McCullough mentioned the "Mercy Values" espoused by the Sisters of Mercy order that founded the school, telling Wolfe that she was "greatly disappointed that the powers who control the hiring and firing at Mount St. Mary have taken this stance which seems to be in direct opposition to the Mercy Value recognizing 'The Intrinsic Worth and Dignity of Each Person.' "

Earlier, in a response to a theologian who had written her to question the firing, Wolfe had said that her hands were tied on the issue once McCullough entered into a civil union "whereby a public document was generated."

"Do you honestly think a lowly high school principal of 531 girls would take this kind of monumental action on a whim or based on my 'conservative views?' " Wolfe wrote. "You and many others are making grandiose assumptions ... [P]erhaps you need to take this up with the Catholic Church who made this decision. I am contractually bound by the parameters set forth by the church teachings." Wolfe closed the letter by saying that while many have accused her of cowardice for the firing, she asked the writer to question if it took "moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church."

Wolfe has not returned a phone call seeking further comment. In response for a request for comment, a spokesman for the Diocese of Little Rock sent an email saying: "At this time the Diocese of Little Rock has no plans to issue its own statement other than to indicate that, like the Mount, the Diocese does not disclose confidential personnel information unless it is properly authorized."

On Oct. 22, the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest LGBT rights group, held a support rally and press event at Little Rock's South on Main restaurant, with McCullough and Mariani making their first public appearance since the firing. HRC was the first to report on the issue, and has gathered over 50,000 signatures from those protesting the firing, which they planned to deliver to Mount St. Mary Academy President Karen Flake and Wolfe.


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