Small town parish dismisses choir members over gay marriages

It's been a turbulent month for two small town Minnesota churches after three members of the congregation claim they were dismissed from their respective choirs for being involved in same-sex marriages, a move many say is counter to the inclusive ideal the church purports to uphold.

Friends Travis Loeffler and Bob Bernard are longtime members of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Taylors Falls, Minn., serving in the choir for a combined 22 years. Their roles in the ministry, however, came to an abrupt halt Dec. 5 when Father John Drees--in his first year with the parish--dismissed them both. Loeffler’s husband Dominic Mitchell was also simultaneously dismissed from his role with St. Francis Xavier in Franconia, Minn.  

Fr. Drees denies the move was due to the men’s sexual orientation, with Loeffler still waiting for an official explanation. Bernard, however, says the reason was clear to him from the beginning.

"[I was let go] because I entered into a civil marriage with another man," he said. "We understand what the church’s teachings are on marriage at the same time I’m the happiest I’ve ever been."

In the wake of the announcement, church Trustee Larry Julik-Heine stepped down from his position in peaceful protest.  

"We're all entitled to be treated with respect and dignity," he said. "I examined my conscience and I just couldn't support it." Despite the incident, he remains a loyal St. Joseph’s parishioner.  

All three men are still allowed to attend mass and sing from their pews, however, saying that they still enjoy great support of their respective congregations. They say that for them, this isn't a story meant to bash the Catholic Church or Father Drees--it's simply a story about harmony and faith despite all odds.

"This is about a story about a community--a small country community that loves and respects and is inclusive of everyone no matter who you are," Loeffler said.

"It’s not easy being faithful, but that’s part of the deal," Bernard said. "We have to work at it."