A federally chartered university's decision to place its chief diversity officer on paid leave over her support for a referendum challenging Maryland's same-sex marriage law is drawing fire.
Both conservatives, who are seeking to strike down the law that was passed earlier this year legalizing same-sex marriage, and LGBT groups have denounced Gallaudet University's decision.
"I join an ever-growing number of Marylanders in expressing my complete dismay over Gallaudet
University's decision to place Dr. Angela McCaskill on administrative leave for signing the marriage referendum petition," said Derek McCoy, chairman of The Maryland Marriage Alliance, in a statement. "Quite simply, it was well within her rights to sign the petition."
Also defending McCaskill, Josh Levin of Marylanders for Marriage Equality commented, "We strongly disagree with the decision to put the chief diversity officer on leave and hope she is reinstated immediately. Everyone is entitled to free speech and to their own opinion about Question 6, which is about treating everyone fairly and equally under the law."
Months after Maryland became the eighth state to legalize marriage for same-sex couples, traditional marriage supporters collected signatures to place the new law on the November ballot – which would allow voters to decide on the issue of marriage. McCaskill signed the petition in July while at church, according to Planet Deaf Queer.
A Gallaudet faculty member, who remains anonymous, discovered McCaskill's name on the petition and filed a complaint with the university.
Gallaudet University, which is a school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C., then announced on Wednesday that McCaskill would be placed on paid administrative leave effective immediately.
"It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer," said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz. "However, other individuals feel differently. I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university. In the meantime an interim Chief Diversity Officer will be announced in the near future."
McCaskill was the first deaf African-American female to earn a Ph.D. from Gallaudet, according to her university profile. She has worked at Gallaudet for 23 years and in 2011 was name deputy to the president and associate provost of diversity and inclusion.
Shocked by the university's decision, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins argued that a person should "no more be punished for signing a petition than they should be for voting."
"This is a basic citizen's right to participation in our democratic process. Gallaudet University claims to believe in diversity but clearly their definition of diversity doesn't allow for dissent when it comes to marriage," he stated.
"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 the troubling trend of intimidation and bullying tactics against those who uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman."
The Baltimore Sun also released an editorial Thursday, criticizing the university's action.
"How we actually vote is private, but virtually everything else about our participation in the electoral process is public: what petitions we sign, what parties we register with, when we vote, which candidates we donate money to and how much. Might someone consider it inappropriate if a chief diversity officer registered as a Republican, since that party's platform opposes gay marriage?" the publication stated.
"The university has a right to evaluate Ms. McCaskill based on how well she does her job, not what she thinks, and there appears to have been no indication before this incident that she was insensitive to the needs of gay and lesbian students on campus.
"University president T. Alan Hurwitz owes her an apology and immediate reinstatement."