How Do Random Acts of Ignorance Affect the Gay Rights Debate?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 24, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In case you missed it, vandals redecorated the Lambda Law Students Association's office at Boston College Law School (BCLS) over the weekend with a wall full of hate. Above the Law has a photo of the hooligans' handiwork here.

BCLS Dean Vincent D. Rougeau condemned the act. Jason Triplett, co-chair of the school's Lambda Law chapter, told Above the Law that the graffiti was shocking because the both students and faculty at the school are inclusive and supportive of the organization. Another Lambda Legal member suggested that the perpetrator was unaffiliated with the law school.

The students and faculty at BCLS are considering ways they can turn this random act of ignorance into an learning opportunity. Maybe it can be a teachable moment for more than just the BCLS community. Perhaps lawyers can use this incident to start a dialogue about the legal community's role in the gay rights movement.

In the coming months, you'll hear an extended discussion regarding gay rights in America while the Supreme Court considers the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 challenges. This week, we got our first taste of what the debate will look like as parties in the DOMA litigation filed their merits briefs.

The House of Representatives Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) -- which is defending DOMA before the Supreme Court -- argued in its brief that the Court should leave DOMA alone because the "democratic process is at work on this issue; there is no sound reason to constitutionalize it."

BLAG also urged the Court that it shouldn't apply the Second Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard to the DOMA appeal because "creating new suspect classes takes issues away from the democratic process" and gay citizens already have plenty of access to the democratic process. BLAG goes on to list a litany of same-sex political victories before concluding, "In short, gays and lesbians are one of the most influential, best-connected, best-funded, and best-organized interest groups in modern politics, and have attained more legislative victories, political power, and popular favor in less time than virtually any other group in American history."

But is political success enough?

The Civil Rights Movement suggests that it isn't. Consider this: Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was adopted, the Supreme Court continued to decide civil right cases. (For example, Loving v. Virginia, which "constitutionalized" an end to anti-miscegenation laws, wasn't decided until 1967.) Even though the democratic process was at work on civil rights, the Court continued to constitutionalize the issue.

Much as racism continued after the Civil Rights Act was adopted, discrimination against gays and lesbians endures despite a few political victories. (Consider the amount of hand-wringing associated with a gay lawyer's nomination to the federal bench. Even in the relatively-progressive legal community, we have a long way to go.)

Neither the political process, nor a Supreme Court decision on DOMA or Prop 8, will change what happened at BCLS, but what happened at BCLS highlights why the legal community should take the lead in addressing bigotry and discrimination.

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