March 4, 2004 - Columbia Spectator: Togo RPCV and Law Professor Evan Wolfson battles for Same-Sex Marriage Laws

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Togo RPCV and Law Professor Evan Wolfson battles for Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Togo RPCV and Law Professor Evan Wolfson battles for Same-Sex Marriage Laws

Prof. Battles for Marriage Laws

Law Professor at Forefront of National Debate on Same-Sex Marriage Laws

By Mariko Foster
Columbia Daily Spectator
March 04, 2004

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court brought the issue of same-sex marriage to the forefront of national attention when it ruled in favor of granting full marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Feb. 4. Since then, the country has witnessed debate over the issue spreading like wildfire due to the actions of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who authorized the marriage of some 3,400 same-sex couples last month, and President George W. Bush's proposal to amend the United States Constitution to define marriage as the union between a man and woman.

Last week, Jason West, the mayor of New Paltz, N.Y. brought the controversy to New York when he issued marriage licenses for 25 same-sex couples in defiance of the state's domestic relations law. The issue spread to Oregon Tuesday after Diane Linn, chairwoman of the Multnomah Country Board of Commissioners, ordered the county to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

At the forefront of this debate is Freedom to Marry founder and executive director Evan Wolfson, an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University.

After leaving Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a lesbian/gay legal advocacy group, Wolfson founded Freedom to Marry in Jan. 2003. Freedom to Marry is a partnership of gay and non-gay groups and organizations working to win marriage equality nationwide. It includes national organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, and groups within New York State such as The Wedding Party.

"The purpose of Freedom to Marry," Wolfson said, "is to create a larger whole to bring new resources and allies into this movement."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa., Wolfson attended Yale University. After graduating in 1978, he worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, West Africa. At Harvard's law school, he wrote his thesis on gay people's right to marry and taught political philosophy at Harvard after graduating in 1983.

Wolfson's career in gay rights involves several landmark cases. In December 1999, he served as co-counsel in the Hawaii Supreme Court case Baehr v. Anderson. In this case, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that a 1998 state constitutional amendment prevented it from issuing civil marriage licenses to three same-sex couples. This case is viewed as the catalyst to today's nationwide debate.

Wolfson also argued in the December 1999 case Baker vs. Vermont. Because of this case, "civil unions," a legal marital status for same-sex couples, were institutionalized into Vermont state law. This new law took effect in July 2000.

During the case Boy Scouts of America vs. James Dale in April 2000, Wolfson became the first Lambda attorney to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court. In 1990, the Boy Scouts of America expelled Eagle Scout James Dale because the Boy Scouts had a rule which "specifically forbid membership to homosexuals." The New Jersey Supreme Court upheld Dale's complaint against the organization, finding BSA to be subject to New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination. However, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this decision by a 5-4 vote the following June based on BSA's assertion that the organization's message would be burdened by accommodating gay membership.

In June 2000, the National Law Journal named Wolfson one of the 100 most influential attorneys in America based on his involvement in the James Dale case.

Concerning U.S. President George Bush's recent speech about amending the Constitution, Wolfson said, "Freedom to Marry condemns any politician who plays with fire near the Constitution and poses a threat to American families and values by denying an equality of rights."

Gay and lesbian groups such as the Columbia Queer Alliance and Q do not affiliate themselves with Freedom to Marry because, according CQA President Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, CC '04, "there is too much politics involved."

"There are several opinions regarding gay marriage within CQA, and therefore the group cannot speak for one purpose alone," Gonzalez-Rivera added.

As an adjunct professor of law at Columbia University, Wolfson taught such classes as "Sexuality and the Law" and "Gay People and the Freedom to Marry" from 1991-1999.

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Story Source: Columbia Spectator

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Gay Issues; Marriage; COS - Togo; Law



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