"This has been a tremendously horrific time for myself and my family," Angela McCaskill said at a news conference Tuesday outside the Maryland State House. "The university has allowed this issue to escalate out of control. They have attempted to intimidate me. They have tarnished my reputation."
McCaskill, who is deaf and spoke via an interpreter, said she signed the petition because she is "pro-democracy." She was joined by members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus — including some who voted in favor of the same-sex marriage measure and some who opposed it.
Nearly 200,000 Marylanders signed the petition pushed by opponents of same-sex marriage, who hope to defeat the law at the ballot box Nov. 6. McCaskill said she signed it after listening to a sermon in her Prince George's County church that focused on the importance of marriage.
"I thought it was important that as a citizen of the state of Maryland I could exercise my right to participate in the political process," she said.
McCaskill, the first deaf black woman to receive a doctorate from Gallaudet, was suspended with pay last week from her post. At the time, the university president issued a statement saying he wanted to consider whether it was appropriate for an officer in charge of cultivating diversity to sign the petition. McCaskill said the university acted after a fellow faculty member lodged a complaint about her decision to sign.
Opponents of same-sex marriage began airing television commercials Tuesday using the Gallaudet incident as an example of the intolerance they say would accompany passage of Question 6.
The commercial will highlight "the consequences and threats that Marylanders face when same-sex marriage becomes law," said Deana Bass, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Marriage Alliance.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown — supporters of same-sex marriage — have called on the university to reinstate McCaskill. Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group trying to uphold the same-sex marriage law, took out a full-page ad in Tuesday's Annapolis Capital newspaper asking that she be put back to work.
"McCaskill has every right to her view on marriage," the ad says. "And that includes signing the petition to put the issue to a public referendum."
Gallaudet President T. Alan Hurwitz issued a statement Tuesday morning saying he would like to work with McCaskill "to enable her to return to the community from her administrative leave." He did not reinstate her.
McCaskill's lawyer, J. Wyndal Gordon, said his client is due "compensation for psychological and emotional" damage that the incident has caused, as well as for the "harm to her reputation."