Proposition 8 should have been defeated. It represents an unfortunate backslide away from full equality for gay couples, and California now sadly reverts to being one of 48 states in which equality remains a goal, not reality.
That said -- and I say this as someone who's been a fan of Marc Shaiman's since his cameo in Broadcast News and whose five year-old daughter has seen Hairspray double-digit times, including the sing-a-long screening with John Waters in P-Town this summer -- this is troubling:
Scott Eckern, artistic director for the California Musical Theatre, resigned Wednesday as a growing number of artists threatened to boycott the organization because of his $1,000 donation to the campaign to ban gay marriage in California.
"I understand my supporting of Proposition 8 has been the cause of many hurt feelings, maybe even betrayal," Eckern said in a written statement. "I chose to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved."
... News of Eckern's campaign contribution, which popped up on Web sites following the passage of Proposition 8, quickly spread through an industry that has long advocated for gays on rights and health issues. It was met with shock, disbelief and ultimately anger....
Los Angeles-based and Tony Award-winning composer Marc Shaiman ("Hairspray") wrote a blog saying he would never allow any of his shows to again be licensed or performed by California Musical Theatre while Eckern was employed there.
I can easily concede that it is monumentally stupid to contribute to anti-gay causes while working in a gay-dominated environment, but that can't be the end of the discussion. Why? (PDF):
Lynne Gobbell worked for a housing-insulation company in Alabama. In the midst of the 2004 presidential campaign, she placed a John Kerry bumper sticker on the rear windshield of her car, which she then drove to work.
The owner of the company, a supporter of President George W. Bush, ordered Gobbell to remove the sticker. She objected and was fired.
Glen Hillier worked at a Maryland advertising and design company. At a political rally in West Virginia in 2004, he attempted to ask Bush challenging questions about the war in Iraq. A client who provided tickets to the event apparently was offended, and the company fired Hillier.
William Niess, a Democrat in Wisconsin, refused to make a political contribution to the party favored by his boss. As a result, he was fired in 1996.
None of these people brought suit. Absent a statute to the contrary (and no federal law protects private employees in this area), their terminations were legal.
Or take the case of Michael Italie, a sewing-machine operator who was fired by Goodwill because, as his supervisor told him, "Because of your views of the U.S. government, which are contrary to those of this agency, you are a disruptive force and cannot work here anymore."
Now, you might react, but this is different. This person's political behavior really affected his company's bottom line, and that's not true in the other cases. But it is easy to imagine an employer arguing as Italie's did, that one's political dissent disrupted the workplace, damaged company morale, and who wants to spend years litigating this sort of thing?
Disturbingly few states offer any protections for employees in their outside political conduct. California, notably, is one of them:
CALIFORNIA LABOR CODE
1101. No employer shall make, adopt, or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy:
(a) Forbidding or preventing employees from engaging or participating in politics or from becoming candidates for public office.
(b) Controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.
1102. No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.
Two more via Prof. Eugene Volokh:
La. Rev. Stat. § 23:961: [N]o employer having regularly in his employ twenty or more employees shall make ... or enforce any ... policy ... preventing any of his employees from ... participating in politics, or from becoming a candidate for public office ... [nor] adopt or enforce any ... policy which will ... tend to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of his employees, nor ... attempt to coerce or influence any of his employees by means of threats of ... loss of employment in case such employees should support or become affiliated with any particular political faction or organization, or participate in political activities of any nature or character....
S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-560: Whoever shall ... [discharge from employment] any citizen because of political opinions or the exercise of political rights and privileges guaranteed to every citizen of the United States by the Constitution ... thereof ... shall be guilty of a misdemeanor [and subject to civil liability]....
Eckern resigned (and presumably reached some financial settlement) rather than be fired, but he might have had a case had the latter occurred. In most states, he would not have -- and you would not have had a claim of wrongful discharge.
[Side note: under the Supreme Court's 1982 ruling in Brown v. Socialist Workers' 74 Campaign Committee, in an opinion authored by Justice Thurgood Marshall regarding the disclosure of campaign contributions, there's a balancing test even as to whether controversial contributions must be disclosed at all: "The First Amendment prohibits a State from compelling disclosures by a minor party that will subject those persons identified to the reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals. Such disclosures would infringe the First Amendment rights of the party and its members and supporters."]
Indeed, the next time, it's not going to be a clear-cut case on the other political side, like the North Carolina yarn technician fired for having a 2" x 3" Confederate flag decal on his toolbox (about which no employee had complained). It'll be a hotel clerk in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, a town in Elk County whose tourism is based on hunting, discovered to have given money to pro-gun control candidates or organizations. Or it'll be a commenter here, fired by an employer for espousing views contrary to its business interests.
People should be able to hold controversial political opinions and act upon them outside the workplace -- whether it's me, you or Scott Eckern -- and not be in fear of losing our jobs. What happened to Eckern should not be cause for celebration, but cause for concern.