Though attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson once argued against each other in front of the Supreme Court, they said they are of one mind about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
Boies and Olson joined John Avalon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, to discuss same-sex marriage at the first panel of the Civil Rights Summit on Tuesday.
Boies and Olson — once legal foes in the 2000 Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, with Olson representing former President George W. Bush and Boise representing former Vice President Al Gore — joined forces and fought to overturn Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, a battle they discussed at the panel, “Gay Marriage: A Civil Right?".
At the panel, Boies said he thinks same-sex marriage is the defining civil rights issue of today.
“We are on the verge of establishing true equality for this group of American citizens, as we have for countless citizens before them,” Boies said. “The same kinds of arguments are always used to justify discrimination.”
Boies said there are clear similarities between the fight for equal rights for same-sex couples and the civil rights movement.
“I think one of the parallels is that, like the battle for racial civil rights, for a long time people denied that this was a civil rights issue,” Boies said. “They defended it on religious grounds, on constitutional grounds, on grounds of tradition, on grounds of protecting the family - all of the ways that we have, over the course of the history of our country, tried to deny one group of our citizens the equal rights that our Declaration of Independence and Constitution promises to everybody.”
According to Olson, denying an individual the right to marry violates rights granted to them by the law.
“Citizens who are gay or lesbian are being denied the fundamental right to marriage and they’re being denied the protection of equal laws in respect to marriage and that takes away their right to dignity,” Olson said. “You’re taking away the person’s decency, their dignity when you’re calling them different.”
Olson, a well-known conservative, said he views same-sex marriage as a constitutional issue, not an ideological issue.
“I would get some messages and I would get some people who were reported in the press as saying I was ‘a traitor to my principles’ and so forth,” Olson said. “If you have principles, you have to be true to your principles and not have other people identify your principles for you.”
Boies said the idea of same-sex marriage, which has received mixed responses from different ideological groups, has been more consistently well-received in courts across the country.
“There are very few principles you can get five or 10 lawyers or judges to agree with completely,” Boies said. “Here, you have more than 30 judges who have considered the issue of gay and lesbian rights since last June, and every one of them….they’ve all ruled the same way. Every one of them have ruled that marriage is a constitutional right and you cannot deprive an individual that right based on their sexual orientation.”
According to Boies, individuals who oppose same-sex marriage do not have a valid argument.
“I’ve always said that part of being a good lawyer is to understand what the best argument is for the other side, and I’m usually pretty good at that,” Boies said. “This is a case in which the other side doesn’t have an argument, they have a bumper sticker that says ‘marriage is between a man and a woman,’ and that’s the question, that’s not the answer.”
Marisa Kent, co-director of the Queer Students Alliance, said there are several issues facing LBGTQ individuals on campus, one of which is finding a place where they feel comfortable.
“What has been an issue for us on campus is having a level of visibility and diversity,” Kent said. “For students who aren’t out or who don’t know where to go to get resources, it’s hard to meet people who are similar and who understand.”
Kent said it’s important for people to discuss same-sex marriage, especially on a national platform, but it is not the most important element in equality for the LBGTQ community.
“Gay marriage is not the linchpin of the LBGTQ community,” Kent said. “That’s not to say it’s not a step in the right direction, but gay marriage does not equal equality for the gay community.”