These high school students know a thing or two about love.
Students at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska, are speaking out in support of an English teacher and speech team coach who was told his contract would not be renewed after he informed the school he was engaged to his boyfriend.
But the students at the school are not happy to hear that their beloved teacher, Matthew Eledge, has to leave.
KETV reported that during the school’s annual fundraising walk, some students wore T-shirts that presented the Omaha Catholic school with a message and a challenge.
“I support Mr. Eledge,” the shirts read. The Human Rights Campaign logo was on the front, and on the back, the shirts quoted Jesus’ words from John 13:34: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Darya Kaboli-Nejad, a senior at the school, said that about 100 Skutt students purchased the shirts. She told HuffPost that Eledge has changed her life forever "through his teaching and actions."
"To be honest, I didn't think the T-shirt campaign would get Mr. Eledge a job back at Skutt," Kaboli-Nejad told HuffPost in an email. "But my goal is for this unfair situation to never occur to another human being again. The ultimate dream is to impact one person's life. If this campaign can get enough attention, then maybe one day, one person out there will remember how much hurt and pain this caused Mr. Eledge and his friends and family, that they will stand up for what they know is right and just."
More than 95,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to show their solidarity with Skutt students.
Skutt Catholic President Jon McMahon defended the decision in a letter to the school community.
"If a staff member cannot commit to Catholic church teachings and doctrines, he or she cannot continue to be on staff at Skutt Catholic," he wrote, according to KETV.
Eledge, 28, has been a teacher at Skutt Catholic since 2010. He told HuffPost he was fully aware of the risks of working at a Catholic school. But he ended up falling in love with the school -- especially the speech team. He helped coach the team to four consecutive state championships, according to KETV.
"For people who don't know the community, it seems like just another fun club, but for those involved, you develop the most meaningful relationships," Eledge said. "You're teaching kids how to believe in themselves, use their voices, be proud of who they are. I developed really great relationships with the kids and their family members."
Although Eledge was single when he entered the school, he later started dating. When his partner's mom was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, the two decided that they wanted to get married and make sure she could be at the ceremony.
Eledge said he took the news to school officials in early April, which is when his boss informed him that his employment contract wouldn't be renewed.
Same-sex couples aren't legally allowed to tie the knot in Nebraska. Omaha has an anti-bias ordinance on the books that protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination. But experts told the AP that the school is likely protected by a religious exception.
Skutt Catholic High School and Eledge did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement, Deacon Timothy F. McNeil of the Archdiocese of Omaha said, "I can confirm: Mr. Eledge is not returning to Skutt Catholic H.S. next year."
But the Skutt Catholic students certainly aren't alone in their support for LGBT rights. Studies show that the majority of American Catholics don’t agree with the church’s official stance on gay marriage. The Public Religion Research Institute found that 61 percent of white Catholics and 60 percent of Hispanic Catholics in America support allowing gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot.
Younger Catholics are especially likely to favor legalizing same-sex marriage. A Pew Research Center study found that three-quarters of Catholics under the age of 30 support same-sex marriage.
Kacie Hughes, who the AP reports is an assistant speech coach and former Skutt student, sees the teacher's firing as discrimination. For Hughes, Catholicism’s strong tradition of social justice far outweighs church doctrine towards homosexuality.
In her online petition, she writes:
When Mr. Eledge, or any other teacher, becomes engaged, what they do in their private life is between themselves and God. Not for us to assume or judge. Furthermore, if [the school fires] Mr. Eledge for engaging in a same-sex relationship, they must avoid discrimination. They will need to fire any single teacher who is living with their partner or engaging in sexual activity, any divorced person who has remarried without an annulment, or any married couple using contraceptives.
This article has been updated to include comments from Eledge and Darya Kaboli-Nejad.