Covering the clash

ssmrlAs the popular vote in California relating to how marriage is defined continues to meet with disapproval from Hollywood and others, the Associated Press has an article about where to place the blame for how the vote went down. The reporter wrote up the results of a telephone poll of voters from after the election for her completely unsurprising story "Poll: Calif. gay marriage ban driven by religion":

According to the poll, 56 percent of voters over age 55 and 57 percent of nonwhite voters cast a yes ballot for the gay marriage ban.

People who identified themselves as practicing Christians were highly likely to support the constitutional amendment, with 85 percent of evangelical Christians, 66 percent of Protestants and 60 percent of Roman Catholics favoring it.

The article is not terribly balanced, only getting feedback from proponents of same-sex marriage. I'm also curious what controls were put in place to ensure honesty in answers. There's the whole Spiral of Silence problem with issues where the public perceives which opinions aren't socially approved.

But the AP article is not much more than a write-up of the press release. I looked through the survey results and didn't find some of what I was looking for -- how Jews, Muslims and Mormons voted. I don't know if the pollsters didn't ask or if the results weren't statistically significant or what. Something that was mentioned in the press release but didn't make it into the AP story was that only 16 percent of Proposition 8 voters based their vote on religious objections. But that would have conflicted with the AP story's lede.

Anyway, we're still not seeing any good discussion of just why these religious voters are concerned about same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues -- even with some really good news hooks out there.

For instance, I learned through the ever-valuable Religion Clause blog that an employee at a public university was fired for expressing her personal political and religious views in a newspaper forum. Here's the text of her op-ed, in which she argues that, as a black woman, she doesn't appreciate the comparison of gay rights to civil rights. She never identified herself as an employee of the university and her views were certainly within the bounds of normal expression on the topic. She was fired after refusing a demotion and pay cut. She's responded to her firing by suing the university this week on First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment grounds.

With a big lawsuit going, we're seeing a bit of national coverage. Here's the Associated Press write-up of the brouhaha:

The firing of a college administrator over her criticism of gay rights has sparked a debate about free speech and whether universities have the right to regulate what employees say outside of their jobs.

Crystal Dixon filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court seeking to be reinstated to her University of Toledo job, which she lost after writing in a newspaper column that gay rights can't be compared to civil rights because homosexuality is a choice.

"I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are 'civil rights victims,'" Dixon wrote in an online edition of the Toledo Free Press on April 18. "Here's why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a black woman."

She also wrote: "There are consequences for each of our choices, including those who violate God's divine order."

The University of Toledo is a state-run university and that fact needs to be mentioned up high in stories since public and private institutions have different obligations to employees and public and private employees have different rights.

But the article does hint at why the issue is complicated. Dixon worked in human resources, which is the reason why the university claims it's justified in firing her. But the article doesn't note that Dixon had a 25-year track record of non-discrimination leading up to her dismissal and had received a promotion from the university just before her firing. And it doesn't mention that various university employees had expressed views opposite of Dixon without getting fired. One provost, for instance, publicly called Christians who oppose same-sex marriage bigots -- without any retaliation.

But the article does include some good perspective from various sources. After quoting university officials, we learn about the response to her op-ed:

In response to the column, hundreds of people wrote letters calling her views disturbing while others were outraged Dixon was punished for speaking her mind. Conservative talk show hosts and members of her church rallied around Dixon after she was fired.

"It comes down to whether you're speaking as an employee of the university or as a private citizen," said Brian Rooney, a spokesman for Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is representing Dixon. "If you're speaking as a private citizen, your speech is protected."

The university would have been within its rights to discipline her if she had stated she was a school administrator, Rooney said.

Stories such as this Dixon/University of Toledo one -- no matter which side you agree with -- make the conflict between gay rights and religious freedom clear. Chai Feldblum, the Georgetown University law professor and gay activist who drafts federal legislation related to sexual orientation, has publicly said that, when religious liberty conflicts with gay rights, "I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."

This is a huge story and with how much ink and airtime we're throwing at the gay rights issue, it's somewhat appalling how little discussion of this conflict between gay rights and religious freedom we're getting. Perhaps this anecdote will provide another hook for some reporters.

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