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Gay-bill debate lies in murky middle

A columnist writes in relative darkness, hearing only the sound of her own plaintive voice.

GOD BLESS those Daily News readers.

A columnist writes in relative darkness, hearing only the sound of her own plaintive voice, pouring words and passion onto the page (or keyboard). She senses that there are people out there, beyond the narrow arc of her heavily-corrected vision, ready to digest what she - or someone else - has to say.

But it's lonely there, inside her head, without any confirmation that the thoughts she's so carefully transplanted into the garden of public consumption will actually be sampled.

Then, it happens. Someone writes a letter to the editor and lets her know that, yes Virginia (or Stu or Ronnie or Helen or Will or even Christine), there is a readership!

On Tuesday, a gentleman named Lou Lanni weighed in about the gay schoolteacher who'd been fired by his Catholic high school after obtaining a marriage license to marry his same-sex partner. Lanni was appalled, declaring that he was "so angry I could spit." He also made the obligatory observation that "the church . . . is homophobic."

Lanni's letter was an early Christmas gift to me, as it served two important purposes. First, as I already said, it proved that people are reading the People Paper. It is not, as some of my email correspondents suggest, being used to line the bottom of birdcages. It is being used for its intended purpose, that is, to inform and inflame and inspire.

More importantly, at least to yours truly, is the impetus this letter gave to me for re-examining the thrust of an earlier column.

About a month ago, I shocked a few Daily News readers on both sides of the ideological divide by declaring my support for ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do since, as I wrote, "allowing employers to target someone because of their inherent sexual characteristics is, simply, wrong."

I still believe that, as I still believe there should be strong religious protections built into the law to prevent anyone from being forced to act in direct violation of their deeply-held beliefs. Pat Toomey, who supported ENDA unlike many of his GOP colleagues, also warned that we needed those religious safe havens if we wanted to guarantee that sexual orientation and gender identity weren't used to bludgeon people of faith into compliance with secular ideas of equality.

At the time, I didn't really think there was much of a reason to fear that ENDA posed a threat to religious freedom. After all, it was only codifying what most of us already believe, that no one should be forced to hide an essential aspect of themselves in order to avoid discrimination and, in the rare case, abuse.

It didn't occur to me that the real battle would lie in the murky areas, ones where "discrimination" was highly subjective and "abuse" to one person could be "protecting a principle" to another.

Enter Lou Lanni. Enter, for that matter, Michael Griffin and Rev. James McCloskey, the primary players in the Holy Ghost drama. Griffin is the teacher who wanted to marry his boyfriend, while McCloskey is the president of the school that, until recently, employed him. Griffin has gotten wonderful press from the wonderful press, coming off as a saintly fellow who, according to the Facebook Page "I support Mr. Griffin," is loved and mourned by all.

McCloskey, on the other hand, is getting the usual type of press that a priest in the city of Philadelphia can expect on the best of days, which is to say, obnoxiously bad. For example, Lanni decries an "unjust organization" that punishes gay people for their transgressions against church teaching but turns a blind eye to other sinners (like, for example, those who divorce and remarry). He also thinks the school might employ some stealth birth control users.

But here's the thing. Remarried Catholics are forbidden to take communion, just as Catholics of the same gender are forbidden marriage. In both cases, the "sinners" are denied a sacrament. So there is no hypocrisy, unless there's some secret cabal of divorced and remarried papists gathering in Holy Ghost's basement to seek the Eucharist on a weekly basis.

It's also hard to figure out how the school is supposed to know which teachers are using birth control unless it enlists President Obama's NSA assistance or simply makes a tally of the pregnant teachers.

This points out the problem with ENDA. By demanding that Griffin be rehired, people are ignoring Holy Ghost's right to preserve the integrity of its faith community under the First Amendment. Two years ago, the Supreme Court issued a very broad ruling confirming this right. But ENDA could neutralize that. So unless the legislation is absolutely clear that the Michael Griffins of the world will just have to go "silent into that good night," and find another job, we have a big problem.

Thanks for the heads up, Lou.