ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Punished for signing a petition to vote on same-sex marriage in her state. That's the case for a diversity officer at one of the most prestigious deaf universities in the country.
Dr. Angela McCaskill has worked at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., for 23 years. But the liberal school suspended her after it found out she had signed a petition asking that the public in Maryland get the chance to vote on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal in that state.
"Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer," Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz wrote.
This week, the Maryland resident held a press conference on the steps of her state capitol to criticize what happened to her.
"The university took this action against me because I was among 200,000 people that signed this petition. I exercised my rights," McCaskill said during the news conference. "I felt it was important that we as the citizens of Maryland have an opportunity to vote."
Her attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, said McCaskill has been wounded by what her university has done to her.
"We demand that Dr. McCaskill be reinstated, that she be compensated for the physical and emotional distress caused by this scandal," Gordon said.
Groups fighting both for and against same-sex marriage in Maryland have all said McCaskill should be reinstated. So has Gov. Martin O'Malley, who pro-gay marriage.
"The reason why this issue is so destructive and has concerned so many is that it is a direct threat to our system of democracy," Delegate Aisha Braveboy, chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, said.
McCaskill hasn't even said whether she's for or against gay marriage. She just signed a petition asking for a vote on the question.
Those who've warned legalized gay marriage will end up harming anyone who shows any support for traditional marriage are now pointing to McCaskill's case.
"I think what we're seeing, especially with the gay marriage debate, is the chilling of our liberties," Thomas Peters, cultural director for the National Organization for Marriage, said. "Free speech, the right to employment -- like all these things are threatened by this new morality being imposed by gay marriage."
"Now we're going to go to stereotyping and ostracizing people and saying, 'If you have a belief about marriage, you can't be in certain jobs,'" Rev. Derek McCoy, with the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said. "You can't be in certain jobs that afford you economic opportunity."
Peters agreed, saying the action has a chilling effect on people's free speech.
"These are the sort of things that have a chilling effect on future people, saying 'Oh my gosh! Well, I'm not going to stick my neck out because look what happened,'" he said. "Even if she gets back to where she started from before, even with an apology, that's how you chill free speech, that's how you make it difficult: you raise the cost of resisting."
McCoy noted the irony of canning a diversity officer working to allow diversity of opinion to be expressed in her state.
"Here you have a diversity officer trying to allow for diversity to happen in terms of letting the people vote, and yet you suspend her for something like that," he said.
"I was humiliated, not only for myself, but for the students of Gallaudet University. They deserve better," McCaskill said. "They look to us for guidance and we give them this?"
For years those fighting for issues like gay marriage have said that their opponents are intolerant. Now, McCaskill and her allies are raising the question of who's being intolerant.
On Tuesday, Gallaudet's president said the university wants to work with McCaskill, and that he believes an agreement can be reached that will get her back to work.