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!
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.