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Fired Atlanta Fire Chief Denounces City’s Message on Same-Sex Marriage

Kelvin Cochran, who was fired from his position as Atlanta Fire Chief, talks with state Rep. Ed Setzler (R) before a press conference at the State Capitol on Feb. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ben Gray)

WASHINGTON – Christians who publicly state their belief that a marriage should be between a man and woman are unfit to serve in public office: That’s the message former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran believes the city sent in 2015, when he was fired.

Cochran, an African-American Christian, self-published a Christian book for a Bible study in 2014 that included his faith-based views on marriage. The book caught the attention of Atlanta’s openly gay City Council Member Alex Wan, who then complained to Mayor Kasim Reed. Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days without pay, and then offered him the option to resign before firing him.

“What that means is children in the United States who have that same belief, who want to be a firefighter when they grow up, who don’t want to be poor when they grow up, you can cancel that dream because you may have everything else right, but if you publicly disclose your belief within marriage as being between a man and a women, then you’re not fit for just a firefighter but any public office,” Cochran said at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. “And I don’t believe any American, no matter what side of the debate you’re on on this issue, wants that to happen in our country.”

Cochran’s comments come as the Supreme Court weighs the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, a Christian who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding due to his religious beliefs. Ryan T. Anderson, a Heritage fellow and outspoken opponent of gay marriage, argued on Tuesday that anti-discrimination laws around the country are being used as “swords” to impose sexual orthodoxy on an entire nation, rather than as “shields” against discrimination.

“As far as we know, (Phillips’) Masterpiece (Cakeshop) is the only bakery in the entire state of Colorado that has turned down a request to do a same-sex wedding cake, so it’s not like the Deep South during racism, during Jim Crow, where you had people locked out of entire markets,” Anderson said.

Phillips’ case is expected to have major implications for Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington state florist who refused to sell flowers to a longtime customer for his same-sex wedding.

Cochran noted the irony that his career has been upended by an interpretation of Constitution he so vehemently defended and served while in office for more than 30 years.

“It never crossed my mind that in the United States of America the same faith and the same Constitution and the same living it out through patriotism that caused me to have such a wonderful life and career has now cost me my career, and that’s the biggest challenge associated with this conversation today,” Cochran said.

Tuesday’s discussion touched on the contrasts between the fight for civil rights for African-Americans and the LGBT community. Ryan Bomberger, the African-American founder of The Radiance Foundation, said he rejects some of the comparisons between the LGBT fight for equality and the fight for civil rights.

“The LGBT movement that co-ops the black civil rights movement has to understand that there is a stark contrast. LGBT individuals were never enslaved. They never have separate and unequal schools. They never had to pay poll taxes. They never had to take these ridiculous literacy tests. They were never denied the right to vote, denied the right to sit anywhere on the bus,” he said. “They never had to face the inexplicable and violent racial discrimination, so when they try to compare the LGBT plight with the civil rights fight here in America, I do reject it outright.”

Bomberger said there is a way to extend dignity to all by applying the Constitution fairly and evenly to all groups. He said that in the case of Phillips and others, the government has let emotional semantics dictate the outcome.