Can a university official oppose gay marriage and keep her job?

10.13.2012, 6:15 PM

From yesterday’s WaPo:

Opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage are urging Gallaudet University to reinstate an administrator placed on paid leave after she signed a ballot petition calling for a vote on the issue in Maryland.

Interesting to me that nearly everyone seems to think that the university did the wrong thing in the case, and should reinstate her.

30 Responses to “Can a university official oppose gay marriage and keep her job?”

  1. Elizabeth Marquardt says:

    Me too.

  2. I think it’s relevant to mention that she’s the school’s chief diversity officer. Does anyone know what a chief diversity officer does?

    Someone against SSM should expect civil treatment, even from those who disagree with them. (Just like all people should expect civil treatment).

    But it is reasonable to expect lesbian and gay students — many or most of whom see SSM as a matter of their basic civil rights, and opposition to SSM as hopelessly entangled with the history of anti-lgbt bigotry — to respect and trust this woman with guiding them in matters of diversity and discrimination?

    I don’t think the school should fire her. But, depending on what exactly a “chief diversity officer” does and how important it is for the person in that job to maintain the trust of glbt students, transferring her to another department might be the right thing to do.

  3. diane m says:

    I think this will hurt support for same sex marriage in MD. She should be reinstated because of the Bill of Rights, but I hope they take her back immediately for the sake of same sex marriage.

  4. The actual email that the university sent out is relatively neutral. Frankly, the subject line is probably; “Can a university official responsible for diversity oppose gay marriage and keep her job?”

    If you ask people for absolute honesty, the only reason that most of us (including me) want her reinstated is to avoid creating an issue weeks before an election. The underlying issue is whether or not someone can be opposed to gay marriage and not be anti-gay which would be unacceptable for her particular position. Marriage equality has become a proxy for gay rights in general.

  5. mythago says:

    I agree with Barry. I find it very odd that David simply described ‘a university official’ without pointing out that she was the Chief Diversity Officer. If she had been the comptroller, her opinions on same-sex marriage would almost certainly be irrelevant.

    If the Chief Diversity Officer of a college signed a petition urging parents to raise their children as atheists, wouldn’t Christians at that college have a valid concern as to whether or not their faith would be treated with equal dignity as non-believers by that school?

  6. A corollary is whether or not this has anything to do with how people should judge equal marriage. In point of fact it is irrelevant. Nevertheless, the usual suspects on the religious right have made this an issue. NOM: “You Won’t Believe This One.” Apparently, this was a reason to a) send NOM some money and; b) vote against equal marriage.

  7. JHW says:

    It’s worth noting that “nearly everyone” here includes Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group fighting to defend the Maryland marriage equality legislation that the referendum petition was trying to stop.

  8. Roger says:

    There are two different issues here. Should the Chief Diversity Officer lose her job because she signed a petition? The answer to that is no. I don’t think anyone has called for her to be fired.

    The second questions is should a Chief Diversity Officer sign a petition limited the rights of a group that she is tasked with being an advocate for? Unless she has a good explanation for what she did, I would think she is not the right person for this particular job. How could any glbt person trust her to have their best interests at heart?

    No one disputes her right to sign the petition. The question is whether she should continue to be the chief diversity officer or be transferred to another job with different responsibilities.

  9. Diane M says:

    Roger, I don’t think you can fully separate those two issues. If you have the right to sign a petition, then signing it shouldn’t effect the way you are treated at work.

  10. Mont D. Law says:

    I have no problem with her being fired.

    In the US free speech is mostly protected from government restriction. But that’s it. Your boss can fire you for working on a political campaign or having a bumper sticker he disagrees with in half the country. The coal mine guy forced his miners to attend a Romney rally without pay or lose their jobs. Juan Cole lost a job at Yale for expressing his views on the Iraq war. Ward Churchill and Bill Maher both lost their jobs. It’s legal to force your employees to work for a candidate they don’t support to keep their jobs.

    I find it sort of amusing that people are shocked when they find free speech costs them something. The whole American story is permeated with tales of people risking being murdered to speak their truth. Daily, people with way fewer options than this woman make the cost benefit analysis that never even occurred to this privileged, elite administrator. How badly do I need this job?

  11. Matthew Kaal says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but is Gallaudet a public or private University? It seems like that would definitely play into all this. A private employer has much more lee-way than a public employer to make firing decisions based on the speech, conduct, and behavior of employees.

    In either case, I think it is important for people to be able to express unpalatable views without fearing for their jobs – and it is encouraging to see so many people speaking up for her speech rights on both sides of the marriage issue. However, depending on the nature of her job, she does need to seriously consider if it is possible for her to do her job and be outspoken on related issues (again not knowing what that entails, hard to say).

  12. Roger says:

    Matthew, your question is a very pertinent one.

    Gallaudet is described as a “federally chartered” institution. I don’t know exactly what that means. It was established by a philanthropist in the 1860s, if I recall correctly, and I think most of its budget continues to be from private sources. But I would be surprised if it did not also receive considerable federal funds.

    If it is a public university, I think it may be difficult to fire someone for her political position. But, as I said earlier, I don’t think anyone is seriously calling for her firing, only for her to be relieved of her duties as “Chief Diversity Officer.”

    One reason the revelation that Dr. McCaskill signed the petition resonates so much is that the leading national organizations of Deaf people have endorsed marriage equality.

    The Deaf community is often seen as a reliable ally of the glbt community and many people have noticed a special affinity between the Deaf and glbt communities.

    Not only does there seem to be a higher incidence of glbt people among the deaf community, often estimated at 15%, but some have observed that deaf glbt people have an easier time accepting their homosexuality than non-deaf.

    According to an article at, “Explanations of this hypothesis range from the theory that Deaf children are sheltered from the most virulent expressions of societal homophobia to the idea that having already coped with deafness, gay and lesbian Deaf individuals find it less traumatic to accept other differences such as homosexuality.”

  13. Roger:

    The University is regionally accredited and Title IV approved which means that students are eligible for federal student aid including Pell Grants and Student (Stafford) Loans. Chances are that about 85% of the tuition is derived from federal student loans and grants. Even college work study is a Title IV subsidized program.

    However, all of that is irrelevant. There are no First Amendment issues. Moreover, we are unaware of this woman’s work history. We don’t know if she has done a good job. Typically, that applies to a diverse workforce and a diverse student body.

    I have had more than a few employees over the years that were at least marginally homophobic. I never fired anyone because of it. She might merit a reassignment.

    One of the problems in evaluating this job is that most universities are not asking students what their sexual orientation is. They are sure as hell not asking job applicants. Thus there is likely a criterion that has to be evaluated by process in contrast to achievement.

  14. mythago says:

    @Mont D. Law, it’s likely that she was not an ‘at-will’ employee but had some kind of employment contract. Whether her actions, and the university’s response, violated the terms of that contract are very relevant here.

  15. Hmmm. Let’s bring Robby George into this discussion ;-) I’m just poking a little fun but it is a contrast although George has responsibilities that are unrelated to his “hobbies.”

  16. Diane M says:

    According to the Washington Post, she had held the job for quite a long time, I think 20 years. She had apparently done a good job at it and worked with LBGT students.

    I would think that when she started at the position, nobody asked her about LBGT issues. If they did, I think they would have asked her how she would handle them, not what she thought about marriage.

  17. Gallaudet is probably unique in its legal status. It is federally chartered, and is legally required to report to the Secretary of Education and may not sell or transfer real property without his permission. The federal government has three board members, according to Wikipedia.

  18. Roger says:

    I do not think she has been Chief Diversity Officer for very long. I remember seeing a youtube video when her appointment was announced. In any case, administrators do not have tenue in their administrative posts. She may also have an academic appointment that provides tenure. But administrators are fired and transferred all the time. The question is whether she is able to do her job as Chief Diversity Officer if she does not believe that some of the people for whom she is paid to advocate deserve equal rights.

  19. maggie gallagher says:

    Another question is: how many jobs are you not allowed to hold if you publicly believe and assert and act on the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife?

    You may not be able to work for a major law firm, apparently.( You may or may not be able to sell chicken on a college campus. (e.g. You may or may not be able to give corporate talks for a living (e.g. Peter Vidmar, Frank Turek), you probably cannot be a Canadians sportcaster (Damian Goddard); you clearly cannot be a clerk in New York, even if licensing gay weddings is just a tiny fraction of your job and you are willing to refer that part out (

    You may be banned from teaching at Hamline U’s business school (like Tom Emmer:

    I could go on.

    I realize these are not exactly “First Amendment” issues. But they do go to the question of: what does the new norm of gay marriage equality mean?

    If you believe the traditional understanding of marriage is the moral equivalent of racism, you will hail these examples of marginalization. But you can’t pretend the norms you seek to govern society by are liberty-enhancing, pluralistic or neutral. They are not. They will create a society in which traditional religious faith (or the akin moral understandings) are treated like racism.

    I’m glad they issued a statement saying she should keep her job–but really I think its because they know a similar attack really hurt them in Maine in 2009.

    But I hope I’m wrong and this is an example of a new consensus that people should feel free to exercise core civil rights to speak, to donate, to organize, to sign petitions on both sides of this debate.

    Hope is a virtue.

  20. JHW says:

    Paul Clement voluntarily left King & Spaulding in response to the firm’s decision not to defend DOMA Sec. 3. Chick-fil-A did a whole lot more than oppose same-sex marriage. Peter Vidmar chose of his own accord to resign from his position with the 2012 Olympic Team in response to the controversy. Frank Turek also did a whole lot more than oppose same-sex marriage. I don’t know of anything to suggest that either of them have lost their ability to make a living giving corporate talks. Sportsnet has suggested that their firing of Damian Goddard was for reasons beyond his tweets on same-sex marriage.

    Now, it’s true that, if you’re a public official tasked with implementing the law of your state, you have to actually implement the law of your state and can’t just ignore the parts you don’t like. (Even so, as the Alliance Defense Fund itself suggests, it’s possible that New York law requires accommodating clerks when the task can be delegated and doing so does not impose a substantial burden on the state.)

    With the single exception of requiring public officials to actually be public officials, actually legalizing same-sex marriage has nothing to do with any of this. Many people may think that opposition to same-sex marriage is like racism; many people may think that public expression of opposition to same-sex marriage should result in retaliatory firings. (I actually very much doubt that many people support firing same-sex marriage opponents as a general rule—it may be true for chief diversity officers, or for people like Damian Goddard who are hired to speak to the public and are generally expected to maintain good public relations.) If other people reject those views, they should argue against them, and oppose policies founded on them. But the legality of same-sex marriage is independent of all of this. You can support same-sex marriage and reject both of those views.

  21. Roger says:

    Maggie Gallagher is so compassionate and feels so deeply for people who have lost their jobs. But I never hear her speak out on behalf of all the people who have been fired by Catholic Churches–the janitors and secretaries and choir masters and teachers–when they are revealed to be gay or to have entered into civil marriages with a partner of the same sex.

  22. Anna says:

    Roger – Could you be a little more specific about who all those janitors, etc., are? Specific instances – like Maggie Gallagher gave – would be helpful here.

  23. In the United States, it’s pretty much legal to fire anyone for their opinions, no matter what their opinions are. That’s a real problem, and should be changed. In my opinion, it’s a significant infringement on civil rights whenever someone is fired for a political opinion, or for coming out of the closet, or their religious views.

    There may still be some jobs, however, in which someone could legitimately be fired for their opinion on SSM. For instance, could a largely right-wing congregation fire a minister because of pro-SSM views? I think that would be fair — a minister is hired, in part, to represent and reflect the beliefs of their congregation.

    In general, I think that people should only be fired for something they’ve said in cases where their ability to effectively do their job has been significantly compromised.

    * * *

    Maggie, why not ask instead: how many jobs are you not allowed to hold if you’re glbt, gay and married, or just publicly or privately support gay people?

    Is it okay for a university to fire a librarian because he refused to sign a statement opposing homosexuality? (Maggie, is there any university which has circulated a statement supporting SSM to all employees, who have had to sign it to remain employed?)

    Or how about the time the Kentucky Farm Bureau fired a man because he publicly supported SSM?

    Some headlines:

    * GOP Rep. Lankford Explains Why It Should Be Legal To Fire Someone For Being Gay: ‘It’s A Choice Issue’
    * Mom Whose Gay Son Came Out Claims Christian School Fired Her
    Teacher fired for views on same-sex marriage. These “views” came up only in a private survey given by the school to the teachers, not because she said anything in public.
    * Eagle Scout Fired for Being Gay
    * Water Polo Coach Claims He Was Fired for Being Gay (The school claims they fired him because of a Halloween photo on Facebook in which he was standing next to drag queens, as if that’s somehow better.)
    * Parents Say AZ Principal Fired For Being Gay
    * Gay Teacher Fired from St. Louis Catholic School on His Wedding Day
    * NC Catholic Church Fires Gay Music Director For Marrying His Partner

    What other jobs have people been fired from for being lgbt, or for being suspected of being lgbt? Correctional officer, camera operator, lawyer – that lawyer, by the way, may not even be gay, but he was accused of being gay on a blog, and apparently that’s enough to get fired – auditor, college soccer coach, college Dean, legislative editor at a state assembly, Alzheimer’s caregiver, cop, lawyer (again), lab assistant, and (of course) teacher.

    Believe me, I could go on and on. And on and on.

    And this situation, bad as it is, represents a huge improvement from just 20 years ago. At least now there’s a large mass of lgbt people who don’t need to remain closeted just to keep a job. Of course, the change in social mores that now allows lgbt people to be somewhat more secure than they used to be was resisted passionately by the religious right.

    I think there should be a lot less of this sort of thing going on. Except in a few particular positions where it genuinely interferes with their ability to perform their job, no one should ever lose a job for being anti-SSM, pro-SSM, anti-gay, pro-lgbt, straight, or lgbt. Or, for that matter, for being liberal or conservative. The core problem, I think, is that people in the US have a strong tendency to demonize those they politically disagree with.

    But Maggie, if you really think that this is some sort of unique “gay bullies” problem, rather than something engaged in by many people, including people on your side of the debate, then you need to take that plank out of your own eye.

  24. Anna, I just posted a comment with lots and lots of specific instances of people being fired for being lgbt, or for other circumstances – such as having a gay child, refusing to sign an anti-gay pledge, or just publicly supporting SSM.

    However, probably because of all the links, it’s being held in moderation. I assume it’ll appear later today.

  25. admin says:

    Sorry about that Barry – I just saw that – it should be up now.

  26. fannie says:


    “But Maggie, if you really think that this is some sort of unique “gay bullies” problem, rather than something engaged in by many people, including people on your side of the debate, then you need to take that plank out of your own eye.”

    For me, it would go a long way in demonstrating civility with respect to this issue if Maggie Gallagher acknowledged that reality.

    If this SSM “culture war” is ever going to be something other than a “war,” leaders on both sides need to start engaging in more fair, accurate rhetoric, especially with respect to these bits of “anecdata.”

    As David notes, pretty much everyone, including the leading organization supporting SSM in Maryland, believe that the administrator should not have been fired.

    Does NOM ever make concessions like that when “our side” is wronged?

  27. Roger says:

    Fannie wrote: “pretty much everyone, including the leading organization supporting SSM in Maryland, believe that the administrator should not have been fired.”

    The administrator has NOT been fired. She was place on paid LEAVE. There has been no question of her being fired. The question is whether she may be relieved from her duties as chief diversity officer and given other duties.

  28. fannie says:

    Yes, that’s right Roger. I meant administrative leave.

    And, it’s interesting that I type out “fired,” because…. well, it seems like some SSM opponents are finding it to be incredibly out of line to even investigate someone, while putting that person on paid leave, for political activity that might be compromising her ability to do her job well.

    She hasn’t even been fired, but you know, I think many people might be thinking that she has been. The reaction to this among many SSM opponents has really been that amped up.

    I’m reminded of when the University of Texas merely initiated a very preliminary inquiry into whether misconduct had occurred on the Regnerus study and David Blankenhorn wrote a blog post titled, “Corrective labor camp, perhaps?”

    Are inquiries into misconduct and political activity that might be relevant to a person’s ability to do their job well ever acceptable, or does it always rise to the level of bullying, fascism, and/or Naziism?

  29. Ms Gallagher:

    Another question is: how many jobs are you not allowed to hold if you publicly believe and assert and act on the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife?

    You are begging the question. Properly framed it has to do with opposing equal marriage for gay people. You have also redefined marriage. The purpose of marriage is to create a marital estate. Period. But I digress.

    The question that is being asked is both honest and legitimate; Should a person who opposes marriage equality serve as the chief diversity officer of a university? Does that suggest that she is predisposed to oppose gay inclusiveness.

    I honestly don’t know the answer to the question because I have not discussed the matter with its subject. You seem to have the answers without, I suspect, ever speaking with the woman.

  30. Diane M. says:

    Just a thought on this particular case – the woman who was fired signed a petition to put something on the ballot. That is not the same thing as saying you oppose same sex marriage, although she shouldn’t have to explain herself.

    Barry Deutsch, that’s a great list of all the times gays and supporters of same sex marriage have been discriminated against.

    Still, I don’t want to extend that. The question that’s left is, is it possible to have same sex marriage and have people be against it without it affecting their ability to hold a job?

    And Maggie Gallagher’s question is a good one – if being diversity officer doesn’t go with opposing same sex marriage, what job does? Can you be university president? a dean? a professor? person in charge of human resources?