Maggie Gallagher
The story circulating on the Internet was hard to believe at first: A North Truro, Mass., volunteer fireman lost his position because he signed a petition opposing gay marriage?

I was lucky enough to get Leo "Skip" Childs on the phone. Skip is the kind of guy who makes you ashamed of yourself, but very proud to be an American. He volunteers many hours in the tiny town of North Truro, repairing fire trucks, saving lives. "Last month I went on 22 rescue calls, plus 10 to 15 hours of administrative duties," he told me.

Why? "Because I think everyone that lives in a small community has got to pitch in," he says. "I'd love to go work on the finance committee, but I don't know much about that. I can help you when your fire truck is broken, and I can help you in the back of the ambulance. That's what I try to do."

His wife, Marjorie, also helps. "Her cooking is famous in three towns. A piece of cake and warm cup of coffee," he says proudly, "that's what my wife does to support the rescue squad."

After five years, Skip thought his reappointment to the Board of Fire Engineers would be routine. Then Selectman Paul Asher-Best spoke up: "Recent action you took, Mr. Childs, indicates to me that you think that gay people are less than fully human, and not entitled to all the civil rights that are afforded to them. The Supreme Judicial Court talks about marriage rights being a basic civil right. ... I need ... assurance from you that you would offer equal protection to everyone in Truro, including households headed by gay or lesbian people, because to me your action speaks otherwise."

Skip is scratching his head at this point. How could signing a marriage petition make you unfit to rescue people? He tried to be conciliatory: "I'm more concerned that a special interest group with a strong lobby would be able to influence a judge in our state. ... I wouldn't have a problem with it if it passed on the referendum."

But with that comment, Paul Asher-Best went ballistic. As Asher-Best later told me, "I consider myself one half of a loving couple who has been together 27 years. I don't consider myself a special interest.

"Mr. Childs' explanation, just like I said, amplifies his bias," he pronounced, "and I think for that reason I couldn't support him."

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.