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Fired Lesbian Teacher Invited to White House Ceremony for Pope Francis

Margie-Winters-blog.jpgA religious education teacher who lost her job at a Catholic school this summer because of her same-sex marriage has been invited to the White House welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis on Wednesday.

The invitation for Margie Winters and her wife, Andrea Vettori, reportedly came by way of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LBGT-rights group that has highlighted Winters' plight as part of a campaign to raise awareness of discrimination against LGBT Catholics.

"Obviously we won't be talking to the pope, but we will be in the vicinity," Winters said of the White House invitation (via Philly.com). "But symbolically, it's a great step forward." 

In June, Winters was fired from her position of director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Marion, Pa., after two parents complained to the school's board and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia about her marriage. Winters had been at the school for eight years, and says she had informed the principal of her marriage when she was hired.

After Winters' termination, she and Vettori, both devout Catholics, found themselves at the center of the debate over LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

In a video posted by the Human Rights Campaign, Winters says that she has received strong support from the teachers at the school. And a gofundme.com campaign organized for her by Waldron parents has raised more than $18,000.

In August, Winters and her supporters delivered 23,000 signed petitions in support of her reinstatement to the offices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The petition argued that Winters' termination was "contrary to Catholic values" and asked that the archbishop not to interfere with the school's staffing.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput maintains that the archdiocese had no involvement in the termination, but said in a July statement that the school—which is operated by the Sisters of Mercy, a Catholic women's organization—showed "character and common sense" in its decision.

"Schools describing themselves as Catholic take on the responsibility of teaching and witnessing the Catholic identify in a manner true to Catholic belief," Chaput added.

At one point, Vettori, Winters' spouse, sent a letter to Pope Francis himself (also featured in the HRC video), asking the pontiff to "intervene on our behalf and countless other faithful Catholics so that we may not be condemned to live a life exiled from a church we so love and want to serve."

The couple sees the opportunity to attend the White House welcoming as an example of "the spirit at work," Winters told Philly.com. "It's the people who have been supporting us, moving this issue forward and in front of people."

Winters' termination is among a number of recent cases in which Catholic school teachers have butted heads with church authorities over questions of doctrine, privacy, and employment rights. Teachers in San Francisco Catholic high schools, for example, recently approved a new contract after a contentious battle over the archbishop's bid to add specific "morality clauses" to the employee handbook.

Image: Margie Winters was fired from her job at a school in Lower Marion, Pa., over her same-sex marriage.--Matt Rourke/AP

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