Published September 26, 2009
The appearance of Scott Fitzgibbons, a professor in the Boston College Law School, in an ad campaign in support of the Maine Marriage Initiative, which seeks to overturn Governor John Baldacci's signature of the same-sex marriage bill, has sparked controversy in the BC Law School.
Fitzgibbons did not obtain clearance from the BC Law School before appearing in the advertisement, in which he stated his opposition to gay marriage and identified himself as a BC professor.
In the advertisement, Fitzgibbons said that he is concerned by the detrimental legal consequences that would arise from allowing the legalization of gay marriage.
"Unless question one [which overturns the movement to legalize gay marriage] passes, there could be real consequences for Mainers," he said in the advertisement. "Legal experts predict a flood of lawsuits against individuals, small business, and religious groups. Church organizations could lose their tax exemption [and] homosexual marriage would be taught in public schools, whether their parents like it or not."
In the advertisement, Fitzgibbons is identified as a professor at the Law School, with a footnote admitting that the title was for "identification purposes only," and that no endorsement on behalf of the university was meant to be implied.
In the wake of the advertisement's release, it became apparent that Fitzgibbon's public stance on gay marriage was a sensitive reality for many members of the Law School community.
In a letter released last week, Law School Dean John Garvey spoke to the emotions expressed by several members of this community.
"Professor Fitzgibbon, as a member of our faculty, is free to express his views … we also have faculty members who hold a contrary view, which they too are free to express publicly," Garvey said. "As I think any of our faculty might have done, he stated his views without prior notice to or clearance from the Law School."
Garvey's letter also details what was outlined in a memorandum recently released by the university, clarifying their stance on what behavior it deems acceptable in the context of professors publicly expressing their political opinions.
Among the list of prohibited political actions faced by faculty and staff are the usage university letterhead to distribute printed materials supporting a candidate, the endorsement of a political candidate at university events and holding political rallies or fund-raisers in university facilities.
"I believe that free expression is central to our mission as a law school committed to public discourse and the free exchange of ideas and opinions," Garvery's letter said. "We have faculty and students from many different backgrounds and with many different points of view. It is our expectation that they will continue to engage in public discourse, and argue their positions with passion and civility, with the intellectual freedom that an academic institution affords to us all."
Fitzgibbon said in an e-mail that he has received a split response to his support for the Maine Marriage Initiative.
"I have received about 40 responses by e-mail and phone message to my TV ad, about 18 positive and 22 negative," he said.
Fitzgibbon said that his interest in supporting the initiative comes from the serious legal concerns he perceives stem from the redefinition of the institution of marriage in Maine to allow for homosexual as well as heterosexual couples.
"Legal consequences of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage are detailed in a letter to the governor of Maine from four law professors," he said. "These legal concerns underlie, in part, my opposition to that legalization." Fitzgibbons chose to communicate solely via e-mail due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
These letters, some of which are used as graphical evidence in the advertisement that Fitzgibbon appeared in, detail the basis of the Maine Marriage Initiative's platform, which is to "protect traditional marriage." The initiative's Web site said that there are not only legal consequences that they foresee arising from the legalization of gay marriage in Maine.
"If Question One fails and LD 1020 is allowed to take effect, marriage will be redefined to be only about any two consenting adults without regard to gender," the group says on their Web site. "Its focus would be only about what the adults want for themselves and not what is best for society as a whole."