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News Opinion Editorial

Scare tactics from Question 6 opponents

That didn't take long.

Within hours of a news conference held by Angela McCaskill, who was suspended with pay from her job as head of diversity at Gallaudet University after the school learned that she had signed the petition to put Maryland's marriage equality act on the ballot, she was featured in a new ad by the Maryland Marriage Alliance that claims Maryland's Question 6 threatens the liberty and livelihood of anyone who objects to gay marriage.

A few key points to consider in the case of Ms. McCaskill: Her actual views on gay marriage are unknown. She said she signed the petition because she believed the matter should be voted on, but she has not said how she will vote in November. Her attorney said Ms. McCaskill is not prejudiced against gays, and, indeed, her record at Gallaudet suggests that she isn't. Furthermore, the entire pro-Question 6 community in Maryland has urged Gallaudet to reinstate her immediately. She has indicated that she wants her job back but also additional compensation for the damage done to her reputation by this incident. Her lawyer also told WJLA-TV in Washington that she would like the ad pulled from the air.

Nonetheless, the opponents of marriage equality are holding her up as an example to support their claim that if Question 6 passes, those who object to same-sex marriage for religious or other reasons will face discrimination and persecution. "When marriage has been redefined elsewhere, as Question 6 does, people who believe in traditional marriage have been punished." As a series of images flash across the screen, the ad continues, "They were threatened. He was fired. They were sued. Who will be next? We're all at risk under Question 6."

Because the ad doesn't actually explain who was threatened, fired or sued, we'll fill in the blanks.

In the case of "threatened," the ad shows an image of a Chick-fil-A restaurant. This summer, after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy reiterated his views in opposition to same-sex marriage (which were no secret), the restaurant chain became the subject of protests by marriage equality activists — but also counter-protests by those who oppose gay marriage that, at least for a time, boosted sales. Municipal officials in both Chicago and Boston objected to the restaurant chain's plans to expand in their cities, but they had no power to actually prevent it. It's also worth noting that while Massachusetts has long allowed gay marriage, Illinois does not.

The "he" who was fired is Damian Goddard, a Canadian sportscaster, who lost his job shortly after sending a tweet in support of a hockey agent who had come under criticism for opposing gay marriage. He contends the tweet was the reason he was fired. His former employer, SportsNet, claims it had made the decision to fire him for cause before the tweet and that it has documentation to back it up. SportsNet has declined to release the details because it is a personnel matter but has said it will do so if the case ends up in court. The two parties have been engaged private in mediation.

The "they" who were sued are Vermont innkeepers Jim and Mary O'Reilly. In 2011, a lesbian couple tried to book the Wildflower Inn for their wedding reception, but an employee informed them that the venue did not host gay receptions due to the innkeepers' "personal feelings." The couple sued under Vermont's public accommodations law, which prohibits hotels, restaurants and other such businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation, race and other factors. The O'Reillys settled out of court, and their attorney later said that the employee had acted without the owners' permission and had misstated the inn's policy, which was to host gay receptions but to disclose the O'Reillys' views to potential guests.

What all three cases, and that of Ms. McCaskill, have in common is that they have nothing to do with the question of whether Maryland voters approve marriage equality. When Mr. Cathy's views were publicized, some people saw them as a reason to patronize his restaurants, some saw them as cause to boycott, and some didn't care. The reaction did not depend on whether the restaurants in question were in states that allow gay marriage. The truth about Mr. Goddard's firing is still in dispute, but whatever the case, it is governed by the laws of another nation. And the O'Reillys faced a lawsuit not because Vermont recognizes gay marriage but because it has an anti-discrimination law. Maryland has one, too, and has since 2001. It will remain in place whether Question 6 passes or not.

As for Ms. McCaskill, she has received a wave of support from both those who oppose gay marriage and those who support it. Gov. Martin O'Malley has personally intervened on her behalf. That doesn't sound like intolerance. Gallaudet made a boneheaded decision in her case, but that is no reason to deny all Marylanders equal rights under the law.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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