Gallaudet University in Md., one of the nation's leading universities for the deaf and hard of hearing, has found itself in the middle of a same-sex marriage controversy after it placed an administrator on leave for her support of a gay marriage referendum.
"We are deeply troubled that University President Alan Hurwitz is engaging in further voter intimidation by telling Dr. (Angela) McCaskill that he expects concessions from her before she is allowed to return to work," Tony Perkins, president of the conservative group Family Research Council, commented on the situation. "He did not state the nature of the concessions but what is very clear is the message he wants to send to Dr. McCaskill and the nearly 200,000 Maryland voters who signed the ballot petition: If you support giving voters the right to vote on marriage, you risk losing your livelihood."
Maryland, along with Washington, Maine and Minnesota, is set to have a state-wide vote on Nov. 6 on the issue of same-sex marriage. Angela McCaskill, chief diversity officer at Gallaudet, was one of the people who signed a petition to put the gay marriage law on the ballot, protesting against legislators who had pushed to change the traditional definition on their own. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed same-sex marriage into law in March, but the petition to put the bill up for a referendum received widespread support.
As a consequence of McCaskill's signature, however, the university placed her on leave.
'I placed [McCaskill] on paid administrative leave as a prudent action to allow the university – and Dr. McCaskill – the time to consider this question after the emotions of first reactions subsided,'' Hurwitz explained in a statement. ''While this has become an issue beyond our campus, as President of Gallaudet University, my number one concern is our university community – our students, faculty and staff and so many others who support us. I act on their behalf, not with any agenda other than their well-being as all of us work to prepare these university students for the future.''
McCaskill has noted that she considers herself fired.
"I'm dismayed that Gallaudet University is still a university of intolerance, a university that manages by intimidation, a university that allows bullying among faculty, staff and students," she has stated.
But some students are saying that she shouldn't have gotten involved in the issue in the first place, and are saying that the petition she signed goes against the interests of gay people.
"What she did is unacceptable. It hurts the gay community," said 18-year-old sophomore Andrew Duncan, with the aid of an American Sign Language interpreter. "It's a very open-minded college, and we need to welcome everybody."
"It's a small community. We welcome those who are part of us. If we're already small and we reject somebody, then we're just going to get smaller," he added. "We experience oppression already. Coming to Gallaudet is like an escape from that oppression."
The administrator has clarified, however, that she is not against gay people, and she just wanted to make sure that Maryland's citizens will get to express their views on same-sex marriage by going to the polls next month. The Associated Press notes that McCaskill is a black woman, and she was motivated to sign the petition after attending a church sermon that encouraged efforts to repeal gay marriage in the state.
The Family Research Council, which is backing McCaskill, has insisted that voters rights are very important and is the primary issue at stake.
"The effort to redefine marriage is all about our most basic civil rights – the right to worship, to speak freely, to cast our ballots, even, in Dr. McCaskill's case, to pursue a livelihood. Even the simple act of participating in the political process is grounds for dismissal," Perkins added.
A recent Washington Post poll found that supporters of gay marriage currently hold the lead in Maryland by a nine-point percentage margin – which would make it the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote, rather than by a legislative or court process.