Friday, August 06, 2010

Conservatives for Same Sex Marriage!!!

On November 4, 2008, the voters in California passed Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that prohibited same sex marriage. Two days ago, a Federal District judge in San Francisco overturned Prop 8. In spite of the stay placed on the ruling until all the appeals are heard, I celebrate this victory for equality and human dignity. But, there is a side to this story that some readers of this blog may find surprising. (Or, maybe you have been following this story closely and won’t be surprised.)

I invite you to take a moment and imagine the lawyer who argued for Proposition 8 to be overturned. While you are at it, take another moment and imagine the Federal District judge in San Francisco who ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional.

It may surprise you to know that the lawyer who headed up the legal challenge to Proposition 8 is Ted Olson. Here are a few accomplishments on Mr. Olson’s résumé:
• Successfully represented George W. Bush in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case that made Bush the President of the United States.
• Solicitor General of the United States under George W. Bush (2001-2004).
• Served as legal counsel in the Reagan administration and defended Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair.
• Was a critic of Clinton’s presidency and helped prepare the attorneys representing Paula Jones.
• Rumored to have been on the short list of possible nominees for the US Supreme Court. (Bush chose John Roberts instead.)
• Rumored to have been a top choice to follow Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General but his nomination may have been rescinded because of strong Democratic opposition.
• Served on Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 Presidential Campaign Committee.
Needless to say, this is hardly the background you would expect from someone leading the legal fight for marriage equality. A few other Olson factoids: Olson seems to be a fan of the First Amendment freedom of the press. While searching for what I could find about him on the web I discovered several instances where he had defended journalists who had been subpoenaed in order to try to force them to reveal their sources. Olson has been married four times. His third wife was killed during the September 11 terrorist attacks; she was a passenger on the plane that terrorists hijacked and flew into the Pentagon. Last but not least, Olson’s legal partner in the struggle for marriage equality in California is none other than David Boies, head of Al Gore’s legal counsel in 2000. What an unlikely pairing!

But wait, there is more. The Chief Judge of the United States District Court of Northern California also seems to have an interesting background. Vaughn Walker was a George H. W. Bush judicial appointment. He had been previous nominated under the Reagan administration in 1987 but this nomination failed when a group of House Democrats led by Representative Nancy Pelosi accused him of holding anti-gay views. On the bench, Walker has shown a sensitivity to LGBT concerns. Wikipedia describes him as “independent-minded conservative” with libertarian leanings.

I think Ted Olson and Vaughn Walker are perfect examples of a principle from community organizing that holds that there are “no permanent allies” and “no permanent enemies.” This principle holds that when it comes to public relationships of power it is worthwhile to build relationships with people we don’t usually agree with. Similarly, it is important to demand accountability even from those people we assume will be on “our side.” In other words, take no relationship for granted.

Or, given the statistics that indicate increasing acceptance of same sex marriage, maybe Olson and Walker represent the "new face" of proponents of same sex marriage.