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Gallaudet’s mistake

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THE CAMPAIGN for marriage equality in Maryland is about more than just the right of all people to take the legally recognized life partner of their choice, important as that is. It is about inclusion, respect and fairness. By suspending a top official for supporting the initiative to submit Maryland’s same-sex marriage law to a statewide vote, Gallaudet University President President T. Alan Hurwitz has undermined the cause.

Mr. Hurwitz said Wednesday that he placed Angela McCaskill on paid administrative leave and plans to appoint an interim successor, pending a decision on her permanent job status. A faculty member had informed him that Ms. McCaskill signed a petition in favor of the referendum, which, he said, “is inappropriate for an individual serving as Chief Diversity Officer.”

According to the Gallaudet Web site, the goals of its Office for Diversity and Inclusion include “increasing awareness, facilitating open sharing of thoughts and ideas, and to provide a supportive and enriching environment for students, faculty and staff.” You can certainly argue that opposition to gay marriage is inconsistent with those goals, insofar as it implies that gay men and lesbians are not worthy of the same rights as everyone else. In that sense, Mr. Hurwitz had the right to do what he did.

The problem in this case, though, is that Ms. McCaskill, a 23-year veteran of Gallaudet and the first deaf African American woman to earn a PhD from the university, was apparently never on notice that her job would be at risk for signing the petition — which, though promoted by opponents of gay marriage, only puts the issue on the ballot. Also, there is no evidence that her views on gay marriage, whatever they are, affected her performance at work.

To the contrary, until now she was known for supporting a new resource center for gay students on campus. Firing, or threatening to fire, a diversity officer for off-campus political activity strikes us as inconsistent with “open sharing of thoughts and ideas.”

After all, if Ms. McCaskill does oppose gay marriage, then she holds the same view that President Obama did, at least publicly, until five months ago. Would he have been unfit to serve as a diversity officer at Gallaudet? Prior to his change of position, Mr. Obama described his thoughts on the issue as “evolving.” No doubt he spoke for many Americans who are also rethinking the matter, some more rapidly than others.

A lot of those who are evolving live in Maryland and can vote on Nov. 6. Proponents of same-sex marriage must persuade citizens who may have good-faith reservations. The surest way to repel voters — and to vitiate the marriage movement’s broader goals and values — would be to say, or even seem to say, “agree with us or else.”

This is why Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and other supporters of same-sex marriage, including leaders of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, have denounced Mr. Hurwitz’s decision and called for Ms. McCaskill’s reinstatement. Gallaudet’s president should follow their advice.

More on this topic: Eugene Robinson: Liberty and justice for all in Maryland Mercy Coogan (letter): A Catholic in favor of Question 6 Doug Mainwaring: Why I oppose gay marriage Jonathan Capehart: Gay marriage in Maryland

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