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Before Gay Marriage Fight, Clashes On Free Speech

Publication Date: 
April 19, 2010
The New York Times
Adam Liptak

Professor Michael McConnell, who is representing the Christian Legal Society in its case against Hastings College of the Law, is quoted in the New York Times. Adam Liptak filed this story:

That sound in the distance at the Supreme Court these days is the debate over same-sex marriage.

It will be a couple of years until that central issue in the culture wars reaches the court. But two early skirmishes — if not proxy battles — arrived this month. Both are fights over the First Amendment ground rules for the debate.

On Monday, the justices considered the rights of a Christian student group to bar gay members from leadership positions. Next week, the court will hear arguments about whether the names of people who signed a petition to place an anti-gay-rights measure on the ballot in Washington State should be kept secret.


Michael W. McConnell, the group’s lawyer and a former federal judge, said taking that position would be enough to disqualify the student.

“If he does not agree with the organization on the point of marriage, then he can be excluded from leadership in the group,” Mr. McConnell said.

In an interview last week, Mr. McConnell said the issue in the case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, No. 08-1371, was an instance of a larger problem of intolerance for disfavored views, one that sometimes affects gay groups and at other times religious ones.

“I have no doubt at all that different parts of the country at different times present different threats to free speech,” Mr. McConnell said. “What we’ve been doing is ostracizing large segments of the American public.”