Intolerance and the moral myopia of leaders in the black community were on display today in Maryland, where the head of the NAACP held a press conference to declare with a straight face that the state’s proposed gay marriage law means that “every church, every house of worship, every synagogue in the state can have faith that everything will be respected and protected not only by the U.S. Constitution but by Question 6 [the proposed law] itself.” Benjamin Jealous went on to assure “people of faith” that “this isn’t about any one religious belief. It’s about protecting the civil right to make a lifelong commitment to the person you love.” The Reverend Dr. Todd Yeary, a local African-American pastor, went so far as to proclaim that “[t]his really is not a religious issue. The wording of Question 6 is very specific in accepting religious protections. All persons can honor their own personal convictions without imposing them on anyone else.”
These soaring words were undoubtedly of small comfort to Dr. Angela McCaskill, the African-American Chief Diversity Officer at Gallaudet University – a federally chartered university, I might add -- who was placed on leave this week for signing a petition last summer in support of a referendum to challenge Maryland’s gay marriage law, which was passed earlier this year by the state legislature. She signed the petition after hearing a sermon at church encouraging congregants to support traditional marriage. Dr. McCaskill is a remarkable woman: She was the first deaf African-American woman to earn a doctorate at Gallaudet, and has worked at the university for 23 years. To see her placed on leave by a Jewish university president (!) for exercising a constitutional right is inconceivable to me.
Top LDS Church leaders have indicated in recent years that they are primarily interested in engaging with leaders of other faiths in two areas: 1) Tikkun olam projects, including humanitarian aid; 2) Religious freedom. The Gallaudet debacle makes it easy to see why the latter issue is so important. True to form, the NAACP leaders turned their backs on Dr. McCaskill, preferring to chant the same tired mantras about religious liberty that voters across the land have rejected. While it’s true that the plain language of Question 6 states clearly that churches and pastors will be free to reject gay marriage, the persecution of traditional marriage advocates demonstrated to anyone willing to see that elegant ballot language is powerless to stop the witch-hunts carried out by gay marriage extremists.
If Dr. McCaskill had discriminated against LGBT students or faculty members on campus, the university would have been more than justified in removing her from her post. However, no allegations of prejudice on her part have surfaced. Her only sin seems to have been a desire to put gay marriage on the ballot so Marylanders can vote on it. She is scheduled to speak out publicly this week on the issue of gay marriage, and I’m sure that enormous pressure will be put on her to issue a mea maxima culpa statement apologizing for the hurt that her actions may have caused gay marriage fanatics. When the Forces of Tolerance went after my job in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, a principled gay rabbi opposed their efforts. His assistance, combined with the steadfast refusal of my bosses to discipline me for expressing an opinion, saved my job. It would be a shame if the efforts of decent people on both sides of the issue don’t manage to save Dr. McCaskill’s.
Of course, outrageous actions like the humiliation of Dr. McCaskill don’t help the cause of gay marriage, so this may turn out for the best. Most thoughtful people remember how we were had by the gay rights activists of the 90s, who used our support to get long-overdue gay rights statutes on the books, then used them to pummel organizations like the Boy Scouts. Instead of making serious arguments, they try to convince the gullible that people who like marriage just the way it is (and has been for millennia) are haters and bigots who need to be silenced. That the most recent victim of their campaign of intolerance is an accomplished African-American woman who has helped deaf students for decades should cause them to hang their heads in shame. I can’t believe that most gays support this action. If Marylanders are smart, they’ll reject this campaign of intimidation supported by extremists and impotent black leaders by voting to keep traditional marriage on November 6th.
I will be making presentations on Mormonism in Los Angeles at Sinai Temple (dialogue with Rabbi David Wolpe, Oct 18th @ 7:30 p.m.) and Temple Isaiah (dialogue with Rabbi Zoë Klein, Oct 24th @ 6:00 p.m.). The public is invited.