SEATTLE (AP) — Students at a Seattle-area Catholic school are gaining national attention for their protest over the forced departure of a gay vice principal.
An online petition started by the senior class president of Eastside Catholic was the third fastest growing U.S. petition on change.org Friday, attracting around 15,000 signatures in one day.
The petition was launched after Vice Principal Mark Zmuda resigned under pressure from school administrators after they learned he had married his same-sex partner.
Bradley Strode said the students want to effect change within the wider Catholic Church, with an ultimate goal of altering the Catholic Church's stance on gay marriage.
"Realistically, what we can do is try to change the way the Catholic Church talks about gay marriage," said Strode, 17, of Bellevue. "I don't think it's right for a man who was such a good administrator to be fired for something that had no effect on his performance."
Strode said an on-campus protest Thursday was treated with respect by school staff. His argument is with the Seattle archdiocese and the broader church.
Strode, who describes himself as a confirmed Catholic who doesn't go to church every Sunday, said he and other young members of his faith have been inspired by Pope Francis' statements that the church should not judge homosexuals or interfere spiritually with the lives of gays and lesbians.
"That's one of the reasons why we feel like this protest can gain traction," he said.
Strode said both of his parents have applauded his advocacy, and most students at the school joined in the protest that began with a sit-in inside the school.
"The administrators were very supportive of us," he added.
This was Zmuda's first year as an administrator at the school with nearly 700 high school students and more than 250 middle school students in Sammamish, a Seattle suburb.
A message left Friday at a phone listing for a Mark Zmuda in nearby Issaquah wasn't immediately returned.
Eastside Catholic attorney and spokesman Mike Patterson said Zmuda signed a contract that stated he would follow the church's official teachings, and gay marriage violates that contract.
A call to the Seattle Archdiocese requesting comment was not immediately returned Friday.
Patterson said the school only recently learned Zmuda had married his same-sex partner. He also says Zmuda is a good administrator and they plan to give him a good reference.
Washington's voter-approved gay marriage law took effect just over a year ago.
Strode called Zmuda a humble guy whom students felt they could relate to. He said the school has gay students and is welcoming, tolerant and respectful of people who are different.
Besides being class president, Strode wrestles, plays lacrosse and is a religious leader at the school.
"I've always had pretty conservative political beliefs, too," Strode said. "This is something I believe goes beyond politics."
Contact Donna Blankinship at https://twitter.com/dgblankinship .
Eastside Catholic: http://www.eastsidecatholic.org/
Online petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/united-states-conference-of-catholic-bishops-change-the-roman-catholic-church-s-stance-on-gay-marriage