I understand World Vision’s original decision to hire Christians in same-sex marriages had nothing to do with the threat of a lawsuit. After all, WV President Richard Stearns told Christianity Today, “There is no lawsuit threatening us.”
But that doesn’t mean that the decision’s reversal in the face of widespread evangelical outrage won’t lead in that direction. Here’s how it could happen.
World Vision is headquartered between Seattle and Tacoma in Washington State, where same-sex marriage has been legal since December 2012. Washington also has a robust law protecting LGBT people against discrimination. Earlier this month, the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle was sued under the law by Mark Zmuda, who was fired from his position as vice-principal of one of its parochial schools after it was discovered that he was married to a another man.
In a post-flip-flop interview yesterday with RNS’ Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Stearns said he expected that some of his organization’s 1,100 employees had same-sex sexual orientation and indicated that he had no objection to that. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, some of them are going to marry their partners and the word will get out. And World Vision will have to fire them.
To be sure, Washington’s anti-discrimination law includes a religious exemption. And WV, which hires only employees prepared to sign its trinitarian profession of faith, may qualify for it. But here another factor could come into play.
To do its good work around the world, WV relies on a significant amount of U.S. government funding — $145 million in 2013 alone. The organization was, in fact, successful in persuading the Obama Administration not to deliver on presidential candidate Obama’s promise to prohibit faith-based organizations from discriminating on religious grounds when hiring staff members to run government-funded programs. To date, so far as anyone knows, no one has filed suit to test whether such hiring discrimination in government-funded programs is legal.
But an actual WV employee fired for marrying a person of he same sex might be tempted to do so. He or she might also sue on the grounds that the organization violated the new federal recognition of same-sex marriage rights. WV, in other words, may have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.