Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn; Kate Kendell, Esq., executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ); John Knight, director of the LGBT & AIDS Project at the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ); and Susan Sommer, Esq., national director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal were the featured speakers at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP's three city simulcast event "Marry Me a Little: The Short History and Exciting Future of Marriage Equality" May 14 at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP's San Francisco, Chicago and New York City offices.
This event was one of the many LGBT events that the law firm's LGBT Affinity Network has held over the past few years and was the brainchild of LGBT Affinity Network group member and partner at the firm, David Alfini Esq.
Todd Young, Esq., Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP partner and chair of the firms LGBT Affinity Network group, provided words of welcome ahead of the speakers remarks to the 160 people gathered remotely and at the law firms three offices.
Matt Glavin ( LGBT ally, former Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP associate attorney and most recently a member of the Quinn administration ) introduced Quinn and noted that this was a special day for him due to his prior affiliation with both the law firm and the Quinn administration.
Quinn spoke about the history of marriage equality in Illinois beginning with the passage of the Civil Unions bill in late 2010 and ending with the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act bill signing ceremony ( using President Abraham Lincoln's desk ) at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2013. He also spoke about the legislative efforts to achieve marriage equality and State Rep. Sam Yingling's proposal to Lowell Jaffe at the Governor's mansion following the passage of marriage equality in the Illinois General Assembly.
"Signing the marriage equality bill into law and participating in getting the law passed so no one was left out is one of the things I'm most proud of doing as Governor of Illinois," said Quinn. "I think that will be my bag of peanuts for now."
Quinn's bag of peanuts reference became a running joke with each of the subsequent speakers.
In New York City, Connie Montoya, Esq. ( Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP partner in the Consumer Financial Services group and LGBT Affinity Network group member ) introduced Sommer and spoke about how important the issue of marriage equality is to the firm.
Sommer said that when people think of New York and LGBT rights they think of Stonewall and progressive values, however, they don't take into account upstate New York which isn't as progressive as the New York City area. She noted that the journey towards marriage equality in New York involved both court cases and legislative efforts which resulted in the passage of that state's Marriage Equality Act in 2011. She also mentioned Edie Windsor and the Defense of Marriage Act ( DOMA ) Supreme Court case which resulted in only one section being struck down, not the entire act.
Sommer explained that although New York and other states have marriage equality it's vital that the Supreme Court rules in favor of full marriage equality across the country due to issues including adoptions by same-sex married couples that occur across state lines in states that don't recognize same-sex married parents on birth certificates. She noted that there is much work to be done so LGBT people have full equality outside of marriage equality.
Following introductions by Young, Knight explained that while Illinois wasn't among the first states to achieve marriage equality it was the first state to get rid of its sodomy laws and unlike New York, transgender people are protected under Illinois' Human Rights Act. He noted that Chicago was the home of the first LGBT organization in the U. S., The Society for Human Rights.
Knight mentioned the legal challenges that allowed the late Vernita Gray and Pat Ewert and other same-sex couples the ability to be married ahead of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act going into effect in June 2014. He noted that along with full marriage equality across the country there is a need for a federal law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in all areas of their lives.
In San Francisco, Amy Jensen, Esq. ( LGBT ally and Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP partner in the Labor & Employment Law group ) introduced Kendell and noted everyone's sense of optimism about the future of marriage equality.
Kendell described the path to marriage equality in California as matrimony interruptus due to Prop 8. She noted that winning the Prop 8 case was the best day in her legal career.
"In California you can sneeze and amend the state's constitution," said Kendell. "We knew that we had Prop 8 breathing down our necks … and the fight against it would be a difficult one but many people were sanguine and complacent about our prospects and thought we were going to win but inside the campaign I saw that we were losing every single day …and the night that Prop 8 passed was the nadir of my career."
Kendell said that Prop 8 was a loss forward because it energized the LGBT and allied communities to move this issue forward. She noted that the Prop 8 case, led by attorney's Ted Olson and David Boies, ended up at the Supreme Court at the same time as Edie Windsor's DOMA case which resulted in marriage equality returning to California. She explained that last year there were 19 states with marriage equality and now there are 36 states with marriage equality and just last month the Supreme Court heard arguments that could strike down DOMA in its entirety.
Kendell said "the poetry of this moment is that all four legal organizations: NCLR, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the ACLU and Lambda Legal were all at the Supreme Court together as co-counsels along with very brave clients and super courageous private counsel in bringing this final argument to the Supreme Court. I love that this symmetry occurred and I think it will be a win." She also encouraged everyone to listen to the oral arguments in this case.
A Q&A session followed the speakers remarks.
Event sponsors included the LGBT Affinity Network group at HInshaw & Culbertson LLP, NCLR, ACLU, Lambda Legal and Out & Equal Workplace Advocates.
See www.hinshawlaw.com/diversity.html for more information .