WASHINGTON — Earlier his month, Angela McCaskill, the chief diversity officer for Gallaudet University, was placed on administrative leave after her signature was spotted on a petition to put a same-sex “marriage” referendum — known as Question 6 — on the Maryland ballot this November.
The referendum, which asks voters to decide Yes or No to legalize same-sex “marriage,” is viewed as a challenge to a state law passed last spring that made same-sex “marriage” legal in Maryland.
Alan Hurwitz, the president of the Washington-based university for the deaf, announced on Oct. 10 that he had removed the administrator because “Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer.”
The suspension of McCaskill, the first black woman to earn a doctorate from Gallaudet, has roiled the Question 6 referendum battle in Maryland, one of four states that will decide whether to legalize same-sex “marriage” in November. “Marriage equality” activists have sought to overcome resistance from Maryland’s historic black churches who oppose any redefinition of marriage, and fear that a change in the law could put religious freedom at risk.
McCaskill, however, has not publicly confirmed her own stance on Question 6. Her decision to sign the petition calling for a referendum on the issue, she has said, reflected her commitment to the democratic process: She wanted voters to get a chance to weigh in on the issue.
Her troubles began after a Gallaudet faculty member in a same-sex relationship contacted her to report that her name had appeared on a list of referendum signatories that had been published on a number of local media sites. That faculty member then filed a complaint with Gallaudet.
Now, her suspension has revived concerns about whether public disclosure of petition signatories and campaign donors who back marriage between a man and a woman are being used to target and penalize those who oppose a redefinition of marriage.
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the nation’s leading group opposing legal same-sex “marriage,” has fought campaign-disclosure laws that would make its donor lists public, asserting that its supporters could be subject to harassment by “marriage equality” activists and that such laws have a chilling effect on the democratic process.
But the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rulings in two related public-disclosure cases have upheld the constitutionality of such practices.
“The situation at Gallaudet has been very troubling. You have an African-American person with a disability and who is now seen as a big discriminator,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, the Maryland-based chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and presiding bishop of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches.
“The Chick-fil-A debate and now the Gallaudet controversy show the unintended consequences of changing marriage laws. Will you still have the liberty to raise your families and state your opinions with clarity?” Bishop Jackson told the Register.
First Amendment Concerns
The ensuing controversy over McCaskill’s suspension provided an opening for the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the coalition of state groups opposed to same-sex “marriage,” to highlight First Amendment concerns.
On Oct. 16, the group rolled out a campaign commercial that presents Gallaudet’s action against McCaskill as part of a broader pattern of retaliation against opponents of same-sex “marriage.”
“When marriage has been redefined elsewhere, as Question 6 does, people who believe in traditional marriage have been punished,” states the commercial.
Now, supporters of marriage between one man and one woman stress that McCaskill is not the only individual who has faced consequences for even appearing to support their cause. They point to a string of disturbing cases from Washington, D.C., to California, including the high-profile story of U.S. Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar.
Vidmar resigned last year from his appointment as chef de mission of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, after critics, citing his financial support for California’s Proposition 8 campaign, charged that his opposition to same-sex “marriage” made him an unacceptable choice for the position. Campaign public-disclosure laws, and a quick Internet search, made Vidmar’s donation of $2,000 easily accessible.
Business leaders who support traditional marriage have also sparked controversy. Last summer, after Dan Cathy, the president of the family-owned Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, stated that same-sex “marriage” was against the Bible’s teaching on marriage, several Democratic mayors said they would act to block his restaurants from opening in their cities.
The National Organization for Marriage contends that the characterization of traditional-marriage supporters as “anti-gay” and “bigoted” is designed to discourage voters and donors from taking a stand on ballot measures like Proposition 8 or Question 6.
“No other business is going to look at Chick-fil-A and say they want to be in their shoes,” said Maggie Gallagher, a leading author on marriage issues who previously served as the chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage.
Given such concerns, the National Organization for Marriage has consistently challenged donor-disclosure rules in states where it has participated in ballot campaigns. This year in Minnesota and the state of Washington, activists have filed complaints against NOM, charging that it has failed to comply with donor-disclosure requirements.
In 2009, as NOM helped to defeat an effort to legalize same-sex “marriage” in Maine, the group went to court to block public-disclosure laws that would require the organization to provide virtually all the names of its donors, not only those concerned with the Maine marriage contest.
However, last year, a First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that found the state’s donor-disclosure law was constitutional.
Disclosure laws, ruled the court, “neither erect a barrier to political speech nor limit its quantity. Rather, they promote the dissemination of information about those who deliver and finance political speech, thereby encouraging efficient operation of the marketplace of ideas. As the [U.S.] Supreme Court recently observed, such compulsory ‘transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.’”
On Oct. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the National Organization for Marriage’s appeal.
That decision followed a 2010 case in which the high court also ruled against efforts to shield the identity of citizens who support traditional marriage. In Doe v. Reed, the Supreme Court ruled that the publication of signatures on a Washington state referendum petition dealing with domestic partnerships for same-sex couples was constitutional.
In an Oct. 19 interview with the Register that addressed the effort to block Maine’s campaign-disclosure law, John Eastman, current chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, explained that NOM had “challenged the constitutionality of the state of Maine’s broad interpretation of their statutes, which required us to disclose all of NOM’s donors, even those that were not earmarked for the Maine ballot effort.”
“During the course of litigation, the state of Maine said only donations for the purpose of affecting the Maine initiative” would have to be disclosed. “Since we don’t earmark our donations, we think it’s a small subset,” he said.
Eastman noted that NOM’s legal challenge was “important. This is not about seeing who is weighing in on the marriage ballot. The purpose here is to find out who our donors are so they can be harassed and their companies can be harassed. It’s to silence any opposition, and that is what we vehemently opposed.”
However, proponents of same-sex “marriage” assert that they do not use public-disclosure laws to intimidate their political opponents and that NOM has exaggerated the threat posed by such laws.
“Serious scrutiny of these claims has revealed only isolated incidents, questionable reports and, more often than not, legitimate acts of public criticism typical of any hard-fought campaign,” reads a statement on the issue on the website of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading homosexual-rights group.
Intimidation in Maryland
Supporters of marriage between one man and one woman counter that “legitimate acts of public criticism” do not include intimidating tactics and that if marriage-equality activists truly respect freedom of speech they should oppose the publication of lists of donors and petition signatories and focus on winning their argument on its merits.
In Maryland, at least, the campaign organization supporting same-sex “marriage,” Marylanders for Marriage Equality, has sought to distance itself from the Washington Blade’s decision to post the petition signatories’ names and addresses. And after Angela McCaskill’s suspension provoked a political firestorm, the group joined Gov. Martin O’Malley in calling for McCaskill’s reinstatement.
Gallaudet’s president, under pressure to tamp down the controversy, has said he wants McCaskill to remain at the university.
But McCaskill has signaled that there will be no easy resolution. She is seeking compensation and has hired a lawyer to represent her. During an Oct. 16 press conference, McCaskill suggested that she was still reeling from Gallaudet’s decision to summarily place her on leave, despite her strong record of achievement.
After more than two decades of service to the university, she stated, using sign language, Gallaudet administrators “have attempted to intimidate me [and] tarnished my reputation.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.