Washington Metro Board Member Dismissed for Anti-Gay Remarks in Same-Sex Marriage Debate:

The Washington Post reports:

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday fired Robert J. Smith, his appointee on the Metro transit authority board, for referring to gay people as sexual deviants on a cable television show.

"Robert Smith's comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable," Ehrlich (R) said in a statement less than five hours after the controversy erupted during a Metro board meeting. "They are in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity." ...

Smith acknowledged after the meeting that he had referred to homosexuals as "persons of sexual deviancy" during a political round-table discussion on a Montgomery County cable show that was shown on Sunday.

"Homosexual behavior, in my view, is deviant," he said. "I'm a Roman Catholic." ... "The comments I make in public outside of my [Metro board job] I'm entitled to make," he said. His personal beliefs, he said, have "absolutely nothing to do with running trains and buses and have not affected my actions or decisions on this board." ...

The Metro directors oversee a $1 billion operating budget and nearly 10,000 employees. They set policy for the nation's second-busiest subway and fifth-busiest bus system....

Smith said he has been a regular panelist on the weekly political round-table show, "21 This Week," telecast on Access Montgomery cable Channel 21, for the past 12 years. He appears as a "Republican activist," according to Rodney Bryant, the show's producer.

On last weekend's show, Smith interrupted another speaker who was talking about federalism and Vice President Cheney's daughter. The speaker said Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, would not want the government interfering in her life, according to a recording of that portion of the show.

"That's fine, that's fine," Smith interrupted. "But that doesn't mean that government should proffer a special place of entitlement within the laws of the United States for persons of sexual deviancy."

It seems like Smith is the sort of high-level political appointee who can be fired for his speech -- including off-the-job speech on matters of public concern -- with no First Amendment constraints, and with no requirements that the government show any likely disruption that would be caused by the speech. (See generally Elrod v. Burns and Branti v. Finkel, which arise in the slightly different but closely related area of dismissal based on political affiliation.) And I think the Governor's decision may well have been quite sensible, not just as a matter of politics for the Governor but as a matter of public relations for the metro system and for Maryland government more generally.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that this shows that the gay rights movement -- which in many respects I support -- has indeed led, and is likely to continue to lead, to nontrivial burdens on people who hold and express traditional religious views that condemn homosexuality: Here, the firing from a government job that really does have relatively little to do with gay rights matters; in other cases, dismissals by private employers for anti-gay speech; in other contexts, burdens on religious institutions' ability to refrain from assisting conduct (for instance, adoption by same-sex couples) that they think is morally improper; in still others, the exclusion of the Boy Scouts and other groups that discriminate based on sexual orientation in the course of trying to convey their anti-homosexuality message (something that I've argued is a constitutionally permissible burden, but a burden nonetheless).

These burdens might well be justified. Also, on balance they are far less than some of the burdens that gays have had to labor under in the past (such as the threat of prison time for their sexual behavior), and are likely less than even the burdens that gays have to labor under today (such as the threat of being fired for their sexual conduct, in some states prohibitions or restrictions on adopting children, the inability to get permanent residence and U.S. citizenship for one's life partner when heterosexuals can get this important benefit as a matter of course, and so on).

Nonetheless, it seems important to recognize that unfortunately the securing of greater rights to some leads to (not inexorably, but practically) the decrease in the rigths of others. And it helps us understand why those who do not value gay rights highly -- because, for instance, they believe that homosexual behavior is immoral and harmful to society -- would fight hard against expansions in gay rights, and resist claims of the "It's none of your business whom I have sex with, so why are you objection to various gay rights proposals?" variety. The broad gay rights movement, which goes beyond just demanding freedom from legal punishment for homosexuality and equal access to public benefits, does intrude (whether justifiably or not) on others' business, and resisting the movement then in turn becomes those other people's business.

Thanks to reader Mike Chittenden for the pointer to the newspaper article.