In the weeks leading up to the Proposition 8 trial, much was made in the media, blogs, and everyday conversations about the unlikely duo leading the legal challenge against the shameful California ballot measure that stripped marriage from same-sex couples.
The two, Ted Olson and David Boies, are an unlikely pairing on many levels. They are political adversaries, and famously opposed each other in Bush v. Gore. They are each high-powered and highly paid inside-the-beltway lawyers. Ted is a long-time darling of the conservative movement, a former U.S. Solicitor General and a founder of the Federalist Society. David is a Democratic Party insider and an advisor to a number of key Democratic leaders. And, finally, both are straight, and had no apparent prior interest or experience in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
When the lawsuit was filed, the first question to each of them was, “Why?” Their eloquent statements in support of full equality for same-sex couples quickly convinced even the most dubious that their commitment was sincere. Their stunning trial presentation and utter evisceration of the arguments and witnesses of those supporting Prop 8 paved the way for the recent ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker, which methodically dismantled every tired and baseless trope ever trotted out for why same-sex couples alone should be excluded from the right to marry. The trial was a masterwork, the ruling a tour de force. As a result, the LGBT civil rights movement has jumped into hyper-drive.
This is a moment that happens in almost every major social justice movement. The community most affected, along with its closest allies, toils for years to secure key wins—measured in terms of formal equality, changing attitudes, and cultural shifts. In the past five decades the modern LGBT civil rights movement has made breathtaking advances in both law and popular culture. We have made these gains because we fought for them, and we have been joined by key allies: family members, neighbors, religious leaders, politicians, Hollywood, and business types.
All together, we have come very far. But every movement also needs a game changer – the key figure, or figures, who come, seemingly from nowhere, and step up to make our fight their fight. When that moment happens, it is something to behold. In the wake of the Prop 8 ruling, we heard the familiar hysterics from the same over-the-top folks who always show up to foam about the end of civilization. But for the first time in the wake of a major legal victory for LGBT rights, we are neither hearing nor seeing any of that from those in real political leadership positions, who have mainstream credibility. In fact, it seems eerily quiet—the noises we have heard from those quarters in the past are now muted and few. So it may be that Ted and David not only led the legal team that took down Prop 8, but may, just by being who they are, have muzzled some of the most powerful voices against us.
It remains to be seen how long this apparent detente will last. But for the moment, it seems cooler heads are prevailing. And just this week CNN released poll results showing, for the first time ever, majority support for the right of same-sex couples to marry. So maybe, just maybe, some of those who have been so quick to vilify us are being forced to think twice, simply because a man they respect, a colleague they admire, a long-time friend they look to for advice, has said, “That’s enough.” We aren’t the first and won’t be the last civil rights movement to benefit enormously from the involvement of unlikely allies, but as we savor the victory of truth over lies and reason over caricature, it is very nice to have Ted and David by our side.