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Colleagues pounce on city councilmember for opposing homosexual ‘marriage’

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NEWPORT BEACH, CA, August 18, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Officials in one California city jumped to indict and officially denounce one of the city's council members after he criticized the Supreme Court's nationwide imposition of homosexual "marriage", drawing a written First Amendment reminder from attorneys.

The Newport Beach City Council voted Tuesday, August 11 to disassociate itself from Councilman Scott Peotter's email to constituents speaking critically of the controversial SCOTUS Obergefell v. Hodges decision, after the electronic message, containing an image of the city's seal, caused an uproar.

The original resolution before the council called for Peotter to be censured and prosecuted.

Peotter's July 6 email also had a photo of the White House, a report from World Net Daily said, shown illuminated in rainbow colors, as directed by President Obama, to celebrate the homosexual "marriage" decision.

"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," the email said. "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."

"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," Peotter continued. "Maybe they are 'wishful thinking.'"

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He then criticized Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to the Orange County Register, remarking how they failed to act quickly to calls for help when terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi but reacted right away to the SCOTUS ruling.

"I think it's ironic that Barack Obama and … Hillary Clinton couldn't get off their butts and save our ambassador and our Navy Seals even though they had days of advance notice," Peotter said, "yet the very night of the Supreme Court's ruling, the lights go up on the White House with rainbow colors."

The email sparked outrage among LGBT activists and some city officials, prompting the push from some for Peotter's prosecution and censure. 

The Council's August 11 response was toned down from the initial reaction after the religious liberty advocacy group Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) intervened, cautioning the City Council against any effort to silence an elected official's free speech.

The city should "abandon this ill-conceived, unconstitutional endeavor to chill and censor the speech of an elected official," JPI senior staff attorney Matthew B. McReynolds wrote in a letter.

"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," McReynolds continued. "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.'"

Mayor Ed Selich had told Peotter July 9 to stop using the city's seal when corresponding with constituents, which Peotter immediately agreed to do, saying he saw how it might confuse people.

"In my opinion, personally and as mayor, Councilmember Peotter's comments on the [Supreme Court gay marriage ruling] are inappropriate as a City Council member and are not reflective of city policy," Selich said.

Peotter stood by his comments, despite hearing about them from LGBT activists.

Executive director for the LGBT Center OC Kevin O'Grady repeatedly criticized Peotter, saying the email comments were "vitriolic" and "homophobic," at the same time praising Santa Ana officials for "the pride flag flying for the first time at Santa Ana City Hall" and issuing a proclamation on behalf of his LGBT group.

"He [O'Grady] can't point to anything I said that was vitriolic or homophobic," Peotter responded, "other than I disagree with him on the Supreme Court's decision."

The Council called a special meeting July 14, voting 4-3 to require council members to ensure that their opinions or personal statements can't be confused with official city positions, and also reaffirming a commitment to protect the rights of everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, faith, nationality, or gender.

Peotter was castigated for hours at the meeting, told that he was out of line, was embarrassing, and could hurt residents, the Orange County Register said. Some expressed as well that he should not have used the image of the city seal when stating his opinion. 

Peotter responded that while he was sorry if he'd hurt or insulted anyone, he still opposed homosexual "marriage", and also that he had experienced intolerance from the LGBT community after his email.

"It was never my intent to inflame the community," he said. "It doesn't change my deeply held religious beliefs. ... Never was I intending to be hurtful."

O'Grady was at the July 14 meeting and called the council's resolution meaningless, telling the council, "If you cannot officially condemn [Peotter's] words, we will hold you accountable."

Councilman Keith Curry drafted the proposed resolution to censure Peotter at the August 11 meeting, the Orange County Register reported. Curry is also responsible for the call to prosecute Peotter.

Curry's resolution stated that while Peotter is free to express his opinions, his "use of a picture of the official seal of the city and identification of himself as a city councilman [in the email] confused the public, media, and [representatives] of the LGBT community, bringing embarrassment to the city."

Curry said as well the contents of Peotter's email could create a hostile work environment for city workers and make visitors choose another destination.

Peotter countered that the censure was simply an attempt by Curry to discredit him and said Curry's censure endeavor was "a smokescreen because he doesn't agree with me or my position on a controversial issue."

A number of people spoke on behalf of Peotter, and the right to freedom of speech, at the latest meeting.

"Nothing Councilman Peotter wrote was in even the slightest way offensive, much less incorrect or improper," said Paul Jensen, an attorney from Costa Mesa. "What is … highly offensive and improper is for other members of the council to pretend to sit in judgment of the political statements of colleagues."

The council approved an amended resolution to disassociate itself from the email 4-3, along with approval for making the city seal usable for official business only. Also in the resolution was prohibition of a councilmember's use of the city seal in personal communication with constituents, along with "malicious, political, educational or fundraising" uses.

The Pacific Justice Institute remained cautious in its statement after the vote, saying that marriage supporters "remain wary."

"It is alarming that some politicians and activists now believe that expressing support for traditional marriage should be prosecuted," PJI President Brad Dacus said in the statement. "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."

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