NBCPhiladelphia.com - Justin Pizzi
Saint Joe's University is now allowing a lesbian couple to enter a Valentine's Day contest after the couple says they were initially denied.
UPDATE: Around 2:50 p.m. Thursday, the Saint Joseph's Alumni Association posted the "Hawk Mate" photo of Edwards and MacTurk to Facebook. It had around 600 likes within an hour.
A Valentine’s Day contest by St. Joseph’s University’s Alumni Association to share the stories and photos of some alumni who met on Hawk Hill is finding the small Catholic university in the middle of a controversy that the school is discriminating against some alumni due to sexual orientation.
Megan Edwards and Katie MacTurk say they entered their photo and story about how they met during their senior year at St. Joe’s in hopes that they would earn the most “Likes” by Feb. 14.
They were hoping to win the "How I Met My Hawk Mate" contest and a $100 restaurant gift certificate to a restaurant of their choice.
They say they never got their chance. Edwards and MacTurk claim that the Jesuit school's alumni association refused to use their photo on the alumni group’s Facebook page because they are a lesbian couple and that, when pressed, the alumni association claimed the decision was made because the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships.
In a letter written by Edwards and posted to Facebook Wednesday, she shares the story about how she and MacTurk were recently engaged (they plan to wed next year) and decided to submit their photo on Jan. 26.
After four days, Edwards claims she still didn’t see the photo posted to Facebook despite being advised it would be posted within 24 hours of the submission. Since other photos were being posted, Edwards decided to ask the alumni association why her and MacTurk’s photo still wasn’t posted. More days passed before they received a response.
Per Edwards’ post:
After getting called back, we learned that the Alumni Association had “discussed our submission,” and inevitably decided NOT to post our submission because “the Catholic Church does not recognize same-sex marriage.” Despite the ten years we (collectively) studied at Saint Joseph’s, the hundreds of thousands of dollars we’ve paid in tuition dollars over these ten years, and countless hours we have dedicated to SJU, our relationship does not seem to exist in the Alumni Association’s eyes. To them, we are not hawkmates.
Once the couple’s story was shared on Facebook with a request that people let St. Joe's know that they considered this discrimination, the SJU Alumni Facebook page was quickly inundated with dozens of comments of people upset that the association doesn’t allegedly treat all graduates equally.
The attention and support they got overwhelmed the couple, MacTurk told NBC10.
The cause was quickly picked up by LGBT groups. Websites like Jezebel.com and others also shared the young couple’s story.
“I'd be pretty surprised, for instance, if it started hosting gay marriages in its chapel. But an informal contest for alumni is a much lower-pressure event -- and the fact that the SJU alumni association picked dogma over freedom and human rights is a little disappointing,” wrote Anna North on Jezebel.com.
On Thursday afternoon Saint Joe's Alumni Association responded to their original decision not to post the photo:
"Saint Joseph’s University fully supports and is in agreement with the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality and same sex marriage.
As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Saint Joseph’s is a welcoming, inclusive community. Our focus is on respect and caring for all individuals as individuals."
"I never thought that many people would support us and really fight for this," said MacTurk. "I think it attests to the caliber of students that St. Joe's producers that so many people would really stand up for what they believe is right no matter who the injustice has been committed against."