This is what happens when we let people run for office unopposed. Consider yourself warned.
Albany’s new county executive Dan McCoy—whom, for the record, I did not vote for despite his having no opponent, though I failed to come up with an appropriate write-in protest vote—has appointed Tom Marcelle, who is senior counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund, as Albany County Attorney.
If you haven’t heard of ADF you may be scratching your head as to why there’s been a furor over this appointment, including a Stop Tom Marcelle website (stoptommarcelle.org) and feisty comment-thread flame wars.
If you read the headlines, or the comments, you may think this is a fight over whether the guy is gay-friendly enough for the Democrats or whether the Democrats are trying to make religious beliefs a criterion for this position.
Both are red herrings.
I read the Alliance Defense Fund’s site and materials so you don’t have to (though feel free if you’re feeling strong of stomach today). It is an organization whose goals are to win court cases that turn back reproductive choice, preserve the “natural, God-given” state of heterosexual marriage, and weaken the separate of church and state by making their own narrow view of “morality” the basis of governmental decisions and their religious practices the default in public institutions and settings.
Right-Wing Watch describes ADF as “Founded by a group of high-profile Religious Right leaders such as D. James Kennedy and James Dobson . . . [ADF] sees itself as a counter to the ACLU. As a legal group, it assists and augments the efforts of other right-wing groups to ‘keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel.’ ”
They attempt to put all this under the heading of defending the constitutional right to freedom of religion. This sounds good, but that’s just because of the sinister-theocrat double-speak wherein somehow “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” comes to mean that the members of a few fundamentalist sects of one particular religion should get to live in a society where their particular beliefs control supposedly secular lawmaking, they get to flout laws they don’t like, and their delicate sensibilities are protected from seeing or knowing of anybody exercising their own freedom of religion or any of their other Constitutional rights to say, speech, equal protection, or privacy.
Guess what folks? That is an establishment of religion. ADF is not fighting to defend the first part of the First Amendment. It is very, very actively fighting against it.
So, no, Tom Marcelle’s religion should not be a question in regards to his employment, which seems to be what McCoy is claiming is driving the opposition to Marcelle. McCoy even accused Marcelle’s detractors of wanting to violate the equal protection clause. Right out of the ADF playbook, but not accurate.
Neither, should a private opposition to same-sex marriage necessarily be an automatic disqualifier. I think such a belief indicates a reactionary, illogical, and emotionally immature person, and I would question said person’s fitness for this job. But it is in theory possible for conscientious people in the legal field to separate personal belief from professional duty and uphold laws they disagree with. It has happened. So while I sure don’t like it, that belief by itself is not what gets my knickers in a twist about this.
Here’s what does: He is in the employ of an organization that is specifically devoted to undermining one of the most important tenets of our Constitution. That is completely and utterly unacceptable, especially in a representative of the people who may be called upon to advise on constitutional questions. It should be unacceptable to every American, no matter their religious affiliation or specific position on either gay rights or reproductive choice.
(Tangent: Plenty of Christians support marriage equality and reproductive choice. ADF and its ilk does not speak for all Christians by a looooong shot.)
Of course it should also matter for those who support gay rights and reproductive choice that Marcelle does not merely take an opposite view, but works for an organization that actively tries to impose those opposite views on everyone else, by removing their autonomy over their own bodies and their legal right to equal protection for their families under law.
When you let one set of religious beliefs drive lawmaking, or interpretation of the law, you don’t have a democracy, you have a theocracy. Marcelle, and any other employee or supporter of the Alliance Defense Fund, is not fit to hold public office in the United States of America. We’re better than that.
UPDATED to change “opposed” in graph one to “unopposed.”