Either this will turn out to be a bold, brilliant move - or a disaster that will set the cause back for a long time. Here's hoping they pull it off:
May 28, 2009

Either this will turn out to be a bold, brilliant move - or a disaster that will set the cause back for a long time. Here's hoping they pull it off:

Eight and a half years after their epic partisan battle over the fate of the 2000 presidential election, the lawyers David Boies and Theodore B. Olson appeared on the same team on Wednesday as co-counsel in a federal lawsuit that has nothing to do with hanging chads, butterfly ballots or Electoral College votes.

Their mutual goal: overturning Proposition 8, California’s freshly affirmed ban on same-sex marriage. It is a fight that jolted many gay rights advocates — and irritated more than a few — but that Mr. Boies and Mr. Olson said was important enough to, temporarily at least, set aside their political differences.

“Ted and I, as everybody knows, have been on different sides in court on a couple of issues,” said Mr. Boies, who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, the contested 2000 vote count in Florida in which Mr. Olson prevailed for George W. Bush. “But this is not something that is a partisan issue. This is something that is a civil rights issue.”

The duo’s complaint, filed last week in Federal District Court in San Francisco on behalf of two gay couples and formally announced Wednesday at a news conference in Los Angeles, argues against Proposition 8 on the basis of federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

In the end, the two lawyers suggested, the case might take them, again, to the United States Supreme Court. While neither man claimed any special connection to the gay community — they are working “partially pro-bono,” Mr. Olson said — both said they had been touched by the stories of the same-sex couples unable to marry in California.

“If you look into the eyes and hearts of people who are gay and talk to them about this issue, that reinforces in the most powerful way possible the fact that these individuals deserve to be treated equally,” Mr. Olson said at the news conference.

“I couldn’t have said it better,” said Mr. Boies, patting Mr. Olson on the back.

Not everyone in the gay rights movement, however, was thrilled by the sudden intervention of the two limelight-grabbing but otherwise untested players in the bruising battle over Proposition 8. Some expressed confusion at the men’s motives and outright annoyance at the possibility that a loss before the Supreme Court could spoil the chances of future lawsuits on behalf of same-sex marriage.

“It’s not something that didn’t occur to us,” Matt Coles, the director of the LGBT project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said of filing a federal lawsuit. “Federal court? Wow. Never thought of that.”

But Mr. Olson said that their lawsuit — which also seeks an injunction blocking the marriage ban until the matter can be resolved — fell squarely in the tradition of landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education.

“Creating a second class of citizens is discrimination, plain and simple,” said Mr. Olson, who served as solicitor general under Mr. Bush. “The Constitution of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln does not permit it.”

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