Friday, October 5, 2012

They Fought the Law (continued)

Kevin Sessums has maxed out on Facebook friends, but you can follow his feed HERE.

I went to the Keynote presentation today at NYU School of Law for its daylong symposia Making Constitutional Change: The Past, Present, and Future Role of Perry v Brown. It was an interview held onstage at the school's Vanderbilt Hall on Washington Square South with co-counsel's David Boies and Ted Olson moderated by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. My old friend Gregory Antollino - NYU School of Law Class of '93 - invited me to go with him. Thanks, Greg. It was both enlightening and entertaining and it was great to see you as well.

The panel was introduced by Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at the school. Yoshino is a gay man and not only brilliantly put Perry v Brown in historical context with other civil rights cases that have come before the court but also movingly mentioned his husband who was in the audience and their two children - both under two years old - at home. He also said he had gone back to read the transcript of the Perry v Brown Prop. 8 case in California the night before and was struck at how some of the transcript rose to the level of art - especially in many of the exchanges that Boies had with the witnesses. Indeed, Boies famously said that, "We did put fear and prejudice on trial and fear and prejudice lost."

Yet Prof. Yoshino said what most struck him were the two simple words "I do" spoken in the transcript by two of the plaintiffs, Kristin Perry and Sandra Steir, who were in the audience at NYU today as well. When they took the oath before their testimony to tell the truth, so help them God, they uttered those two words and the government and the court did not hold their sexual orientation against them as a barrier to be able to take that oath. And yet this case is about their having the right to say those same two simple words when taking the oath to commit themselves in marriage to each other because of their love. Their sexual orientation should not be held as a barrier against their ability - their very worth and dignity as American citizens and equal human beings - to take that other kind of oath as well and be trusted to keep it.

It was a free-flowing discussion with Boies and Olson that Maddow conducted. It left me hopeful that these two men can - in their respective ways and different talents for targeting their own "sides" of the court - come out victorious.

Maddow did ask the Republican Olson the question I wanted to ask him when, at the end, she brought up his prepping Paul Ryan for his debate next week against Vice President Biden. Olson is Biden's stand-in in the debate rehearsal. Since Romney/Ryan and the Republican Party continue to stand athwart any advancement in gay rights including marriage equality how could Olson square this with his legal crusade. He didn't really give a satisfactory answer to me - mentioning having "dialogue" within the party since he thinks they'll come along eventually. His ambition and loyalty to the GOP does seem finally more important than his advocacy of this issue perhaps or he would only be voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket and not enabling it with debate preparations. To use the metaphor of marriage itself. Olson is wed to the Republican Party and we on the marriage equality side are his mistress. And just like any married man who has a mistress he is a master at compartmentalization. If I were thinking about this in a Machiavellian and not a Manichaean way, I could see how maybe a deal is being worked out to make Olson Attorney General in a Romney administration and by doing that Romney would let his party know that the days of political gay-bashing are over. But perhaps that is wishful thinking on my part.

At the end of the hour-long program Maddow told Olson and Boies that, "I love talking about these issues with old straight guys." And I loved listening to her talk to them.