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Angela McCaskill (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The suspension of a senior Gallaudet University administrator who signed the petition that prompted a referendum on Maryland’s same-sex marriage law sparked outrage a little more than a month before Election Day.

Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz on Oct. 10 announced he had placed Dr. Angela McCaskill, who is the D.C. school’s chief diversity officer, on paid administrative leave after two lesbian faculty members filed a complaint after they discovered she signed the petition. McCaskill, who has been in her current position since Jan. 2011, identified the women as Martina “MJ” Bienvenu and Kendra Smith during an Oct. 17 press conference in Annapolis.

“I was shocked, hurt, insulted,” she said through an interpreter, stressing Hurwitz had sought to punish her for her decision to sign the same-sex marriage referendum petition as a private citizen. “They have attempted to intimidate me and tarnish my reputation.”

Same-sex marriage opponents immediately sought to highlight McCaskill’s suspension as an example of the consequences those who oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians could face if voters upheld the law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed in March — the Maryland Marriage Alliance launched an ad that featured McCaskill. Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which backed the same-sex marriage law, and the governor also criticized her suspension.

Clergy on both sides of the issue spoke out against the university’s decision to place McCaskill on administrative leave.

“It is unacceptable for Dr. McCaskill to be professionally sanctioned for merely exercising her right as a citizen in our democracy,” Revs. Donté Hickman of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore and Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George’s County, who both endorsed the same-sex marriage law, said in a joint statement that announced they were to hold weekly protests outside Gallaudet to urge administrators to reinstate McCaskill. “Our advocacy for marriage equality is about protecting the rights of all people, gays and lesbians, as well as those who may have a traditional view of marriage.”