That essentially was a California city’s reaction to criticism from one of its own council members of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell case in which five justices – including two who had publicly endorsed “same-sex marriage” while the case was pending – ruled the Constitution gives homosexual couples a right to marry.
In the end, officials in Newport Beach backed away from the more extreme measures, instead voting only to “disassociate” the council from an email sent to constituents by Councilman Scott Peotter.
He had sparked the uproar by sending an email, which included an image of the city seal, that criticized the Supreme Court ruling.
The email had a photo of the White House, which Obama had instructed be illuminated in rainbow colors to celebrate the decision.
It said: “I know, the Supreme Court (that would be 5 out of 9 guys in black robes) decided 10 days ago to overturn 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition, by redefining and allowing gay marriage. All of a sudden, a lot of the ‘important stuff’ of the city didn’t seem so important. I like how the White House is really quick on the ‘important’ stuff like this rainbow lighting.”
Outrage erupted. The mayor said he told Peotter not to use the seal image, although the rules for its use appeared to be vague. Another council member wanted Peotter prosecuted. There was an emergency meeting to address the possibility of censure.
The Pacific Justice Institute stepped in to offer the advice against moving too quickly or too far.
The letter, signed by Matthew B. McReynolds, PJI senior staff attorney, said Peotter’s comments clearly are protected by the First Amendment. The attorney said the city should “abandon this ill-conceived, unconstitutional endeavor to chill and censor the speech of an elected official.”
“It is difficult to imagine anything more at odds with the Constitution’s guarantee of robust political and social debate, uninhibited by government condemnation or censorship,” he said.
“We are alarmed that the prophetic warnings of the dissenting justices in Obergefell about efforts to silence traditional marriage views are threatening to become a reality so quickly in Orange County. Justice Alito warned that the decision ‘will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’ … Further, we were warned that the majority’s reasoning ‘will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.'”
McReynolds suggested in the letter that Newport Beach “is surely more tolerant of opposing viewpoints” than to move forward with a censure – or even a prosecution – of a dissenter.
A resolution that had been proposed on the issue, he wrote, “unconstitutionally restrains Councilman Peotter’s speech and would be vulnerable in court. The federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in California and throughout the West Coast, has in two major cases sided with local elected officials who opined on hot-button social issues in ways that offended others.”
Peotter, the letter said, “clearly speaks for himself.”
Ultimately, council members voted 4-3 in favor of a simple statement that they “disassociate” from Peotter’s email.
The vote defeated a move from Councilman Keith Curry, who wanted not only a censure but a referral to prosecutors for a possible case for the use of the seal.
“Gay” activists said the vote wasn’t sufficient and that the comments created a “hostile work environment.”
PJI President Brad Dacus said: “It is alarming that some politicians and activists now believe that expressing support for traditional marriage should be prosecuted. This situation should be a wake-up call to all Americans. We face an ominous future of further repression, coercion and censorship unless we speak and act now in defense of our constitutional freedoms.”
Peotter’s message had continued: “I do find it interesting that the homosexual movement adopted the rainbow as their symbol, as it was God’s symbol that he wouldn’t destroy the world by flood again. … Maybe they are ‘wishful thinking.'”
Before the opinion was released, Justices Ruth Ginsburg and Elena Kagan had publicly performed same-sex weddings, lending their imprimatur to the movement.