Two prominent black Baptist ministers who have been strong supporters of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law were scheduled to begin a series of weekly protest rallies outside Gallaudet University beginning Thursday, Oct. 25.
Rev Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George’s County, and Rev. Donte Hickman, senior pastor of the Southern Baptist Church, which has congregations in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Hartford counties, said the protests would call on the university to immediately reinstate Angela McCaskill as the school’s diversity director.
The action by the two ministers was the latest in a series of developments triggered by Gallaudet’s decision earlier this month to place McCaskill on administrative leave with pay after news surfaced that she signed a petition to place Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on the Nov. 6 ballot in a referendum.
“It is unacceptable for Dr. McCaskill to be professionally sanctioned for merely exercising her right as a citizen in our democracy,” Coates and Hickman said in a joint statement. “Our advocacy for marriage equality is about protecting the rights of all people, gays and lesbians, as well as those who may have a traditional view of marriage.”
The two added, “It is the height of hypocrisy for an institution that claims to support individual choice and freedom of expression to deprive that freedom to someone they assume has a different opinion with respect to this policy issue.”
Gallaudet’s administration issued a statement last week inviting McCaskill to meet with university officials to discuss ways she could be reinstated. But McCaskill’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said at a news conference in Annapolis on the same day that his client suffered damage to her reputation as well as emotional distress over what he called her improper suspension.
Gordon said McCaskill was seeking compensation for the damages and has not ruled out a lawsuit if the university doesn’t make a “good faith” offer for her reinstatement along with compensation.
Meanwhile, with polls showing that the Maryland same-sex marriage law has a lead among voters expected to turn out for the Nov. 6 election, anti-gay groups working to defeat the marriage equality measure have used the McCaskill suspension as the theme for a TV commercial urging Maryland residents to vote ‘no’ on the marriage bill.
The ad uses video footage of McCaskill taken from the Gallaudet University website and YouTube link showing her speaking in sign language in what appears to be a classroom.
Catherine Murphy, a Gallaudet spokesperson, told the Blade on Wednesday that the university’s attorneys have called on the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group that produced the TV ad, to take it down.
“It is copyrighted,” Murphy said. “Our attorneys asked them to take it down.”
Gordon told the Blade that McCaskill has also called on the Maryland Marriage Alliance to pull the ads with the video footage of her.
The alliance has so far refused to stop airing the ads on Maryland TV stations, saying it has no plans to do so.
“This places us in an untenable position, it’s difficult to be a proponent of the First Amendment and then have to renounce it at the same time,” Gordon told the Blade. “But what has actually occurred is that by taking her image and likeness and using it in their ad, they sort of prejudged her the same way Gallaudet prejudged her,” he said.
“If we had our druthers we would have it pulled,” Gordon said. “However, it’s Gallaudet’s place to demand that they pull the footage because it’s Gallaudet’s footage.”
Murphy said she could not comment on the status of any negotiations between McCaskill and the university over her possible reinstatement.
“That’s something the lawyers are working on,” she said.