Marriage Equality and Red Herrings

My friend Tim Jarrett has posted about an incident in Massachusetts where an employee of Brookstone was fired, ostensibly for opposing marriage between same-sex couples. But further examination shows that this was not the case.

Apparently Peter Vadala was talking with a female coworker, and she referred to her upcoming honeymoon. Vadala congratulated her and asked where “he” was taking her. She responded that her fiancée was a woman. He became a little uncomfortable, and she noticed, so apparently she brought it up in front of him a few more times that day. Finally, at the end of the day, when she brought it up for a fourth time, he claims to have responded that he believed homosexuality was bad and immoral. Someone else overheard him, and he was brought to HR and was subsequently fired for violating Brookstone’s antidiscrimination policy.

Mass Resistance, an anti-marriage organization, has raised the alarm, claiming that this is what happens when marriage for same-sex couples becomes legal: Christians start getting fired for expressing their beliefs!

That’s bunk.

Now, one could argue whether or not Vadala should have been fired for expressing a personal opinion about homosexuality and whether his statements actually constituted discrimination. Maybe, maybe not.

But that’s not the issue here, because that’s not the point Mass Resistance is trying to make. Mass Resistance is trying to turn this into an argument against same-sex marriage, when same-sex marriage is actually a huge red herring here. It has nothing to do with what happened.

In the video on that page, Mr. Vadala himself states that he was fired “because I expressed my belief that homosexuality is wrong. That’s the reason that I was fired.”

He also says that at the end of the workday, after the employee again brought up her fiancee, he told her, “Regarding homosexuality, I believe that’s ‘bad stuff.'”

He then refers to the fact that he was just “expressing my sincere belief that homosexuality is wrong.”

What Mr. Vadala is really trying to do is defend a right to speak out against homosexuals, not a right to speak out against married gay couples. Mr. Vadala would have been fired even if same-sex couples could not legally marry in Massachusetts. Here’s why.

What if the incident took place in, say, Maine, where the marriage of same-sex couples remains illegal? Suppose the employee had repeatedly mentioned not her fiancée, but her female life partner, and Mr. Vadala got tired of it and decided to respond, “Regarding homosexuality, I believe that’s ‘bad stuff,'” and then later stated, “I was just expressing my sincere belief that homosexuality is wrong”?

The termination letter from Brookstone states that “we maintain a healthy, safe and production work environment free from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, physical or mental disability.” Presumably this policy existed even before same-sex couples had the legal right to get married in Massachusetts; most companies have had such anti-discrimination policies in place for years, since long before same-sex couples could legally marry in any U.S. state.

One could argue whether or not Vadala’s statement constituted a firing offense. But one cannot argue that the facts of this incident have anything to do with marriage. The outcome would have been the same either way.

So let’s not pretend that legal marriage between same-sex partners is going to oppress people because of their religious beliefs. Our society has long enshrined the principles of both religious liberty and civil rights. Occasionally they conflict; this is nothing new. Over the years, we have developed rules to deal with such situations. Discrimination against gay people is already illegal in many states and will remain so. And that’s what groups like Mass Resistance are really interested in: not discrimination against same-sex marriage, but discrimination against gay people, plain and simple.

10 thoughts on “Marriage Equality and Red Herrings

  1. Pingback: Vadala follow-up: untangling the issues (Jarrett House North)

  2. Excellent post.

    It’s not about logic or reason with these people. “Mass Resistance” (as if they were partisans fighting off a Nazi invasion or something) and their ilk are motivated by nothing more than hate, irrational hate wrapped in religion. And you can’t reason or have dialogue or find common ground with those consumed with such irrational hatred. They will take anything and spin it to support their agenda.

    With only the bare details as you give them here, though, I don’t think Vadala should have been fired. But since he was, they should also have fired the female coworker. It sounds to me like she is guilty of harassment.

  3. In the firing letter, it says that “Marriage is legal in Massachusetts”. It is used as a justification for his firing. If an Employees express their personal opinion about each other religion, behaviors, habits, politics etc… every day. It is not a reason to fire them. Now if you are in a position of authority with the power to fire a subordonate, you usually better keep your mouth shut. The fired employee here had not such authority.
    I am sure Brookstone will be sued and will have to pay unless Mass judges are all gays and play with the discrimination laws

  4. So sick of this Christian martyr garbage. I had a temporary employee working for me who was so stupid he kept saying anti-gay bullcrap in front of me. I had one of the other workers tell him I was gay (how he didn’t know confounds me). The anti-gay crap stopped, but I never hired him again.

  5. Peter, this is a subtle point, but here is why the letter mentions that marriage is legal in Massachusetts. According to the letter, Vadala states that he was provoked into telling the female employee his opinion because she “repeatedly and without provocation presented her view on the topic of homosexuality by referencing her so-called fiancée.” The letter points out that she was not “presenting her view” on the topic of homosexuality; she was stating a fact, that she has a female fiancée — just as, if they were not married, she would be stating the fact that she had a female partner. She would not be stating “a belief” that she had a partner; she would be stating a fact. Suppose she and her partner were not married, but they had adopted a child together, or one of them had given birth and the other had legally adopted the child as a second parent. Suppose, in that situation, that she kept mentioning her child? She wouldn’t be “stating a belief” that they had a child together; she would be stating a fact that this was legally their child.

    Vadala is basically saying, “She started it by bringing it up.” But that would be the case whether or not marriage were legal, because having a spouse or a life partner, or having a child with someone, is not a “belief”; it is a life status, “factual in nature.” Mass Resistance is trying to make this about marriage, when marriage really doesn’t affect the situation at all.

    Also, as to your last statement: there are plenty of non-gay supporters of civil rights.

  6. I’m amused that he was provoked into stating his views, that he was compelled, that he was under the influence of some outside force and was not capable of choosing not to share his “traditional beliefs” that homosexuality is “bad stuff.”

    I’ve not seen any comment on the fact that the workplace is not the appropriate venue for discussions of one’s personal life or theological/political beliefs.

    Under other circumstances, on one’s own time, a person has the option of disengaging from whatever conversation he or she does not wish to participate in; when you’re at work, you can’t just leave to get away from annoying people. At work, no one should be subjected to the details of other people’s private lives or their ignorant bigoted beliefs. People have no sense of boundaries and propriety any more.

  7. The women has baiting him since he was uncomfortable with the homosexuality. So who was harassing who? She stated her personal business about her lesbian fiance. And kept push this man’s comfort zone.

    If he bring suit I believe he can make a case of harrassment based on his religus views.

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