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Why The Gallaudet University Incident Reveals Nothing About Marriage Equality

October 16, 2012 2:13 pm ET by Carlos Maza

Anti-gay groups are desperate to turn a recent controversy at Gallaudet University into a horror story about same-sex marriage’s supposed threat to personal freedom. Unfortunately for them, the facts of the incident get in the way of their desired talking points.

DC’s Gallaudet University placed its Chief Diversity Officer, Angela McCaskill, on paid leave last week after discovering she had signed the petition to put Maryland’s marriage equality law up for a referendum this November.

Anti-gay groups were quick to cite the story as part of their claim that legalizing same-sex marriage somehow undermines the civil rights of traditional marriage supporters. Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins, for example, wrote:

Until a few years ago, a decision punishing an employee for engaging in the democratic process would have been jaw-dropping. However, Gallaudet University's discriminatory action reflects a troubling nationwide trend of voter intimidation and bullying tactics against those who uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

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We have seen that wherever marriage is redefined, we can only expect more of these civil rights violations. As my friend, Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, told the Baltimore Sun, "If such attacks can be made before same-sex marriage is law, how can homosexual activists in good faith say that religious liberties will not be attacked if Question 6 passes?"

His point was echoed by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), whose co-founder Maggie Gallagher asked if the controversy was evidence that “gay marriage means… not diversity but a new public moral norm?”

Perkins and Gallagher, however, ignore the following key facts in their attempts to stoke fears over legalization of gay marriage:

1. Gallaudet’s Action Is Prohibited By DC Law. Perkins implies that incidents like the Gallaudet story will become more common if same-sex marriage is legalized. In DC, however, where same-sex marriage is already legal, Gallaudet University’s actions are plainly illegal. The only reason Gallaudet isn’t facing criminal charges is because marriage petition has to do with a Maryland law, not a DC one. Even still, Gallaudet’s actions might be subject to legal action in DC. As UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh recently told BuzzFeed:

There might still be a civil wrongful-discharge-in-violation-of-public-policy tort claim ... on the theory that it’s against public policy for employers to interfere with employees’ political choices, whether Maryland or D.C.

2. Nothing To Do With Marriage. Though anti-gay groups are likely to cite Gallaudet’s actions as evidence of the threat same-sex marriage poses to free speech, the incident actually has nothing to do with the legality of same-sex marriage. According to a statement from Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz, the decision to place McCaskill on paid leave was based on concerns that her opposition to marriage equality might interfere with her ability to act as an overseer of campus diversity .

3. Opposed By Pro-Equality Groups Anti-gay groups have used the Gallaudet incident to paint gay activists as opponents of free speech. However, even proponents of marriage equality have criticized the university’s decision. Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, released a statement asking for McCaskill to be “reinstated immediately.” The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, which supports marriage equality, has similarly called for McCaskill’s reinstatement. And Gallaudet’s Hurwitz stated today that the university is working to return McCaskill to her position.

Previously:

The Truth About Don Mendell And Protect Marriage Maine’s Anti-Equality Ad

Debunking The Four Most Commonly Cited Anti-Equality Horror Stories

Will State Media Outlets Hold Anti-Gay Groups Accountable This Election?