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Meet The “Legal Experts” Criticizing New York’s Marriage Equality Bill

June 22, 2011 4:29 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The New York State Senate remains just one vote away from being able to pass a marriage equality bill, with a few Republican holdouts still raising concerns about the bill’s protection for religious groups.

Last week, Equality Matters debunked these objections, explaining that New York State’s non-discrimination laws already cover religious organizations and same-sex couples.

Still, a number of “legal experts” have been working tirelessly to gin up fears about the impact marriage equality will have on religious groups.

Considering the significant impact these “experts” could end up playing in determining the fate of New York’s marriage equality, it’s worth taking a closer look at who exactly they are.

Rather than providing New York lawmakers with an objective and honest legal analysis of the marriage equality bill, these fear-mongers are deeply motivated by their own personal anti-gay agendas.

Robin Fretwell Wilson

Robin Fretwell Wilson is a law professor at Washington and Lee University. She has helped author several letters to New York Republican Senators, warning them about the threat marriage equality poses to religious groups.

She’s also spoken out against marriage equality in New HampshireRhode IslandConnecticut, and DC, using many of the same talking points that she’s now using in New York.

In November of 2009, At-Large DC Councilmember David Catania posted a letter to Wilson in which he criticized her for consistently mischaracterizing legal precedent before the DC Council:

Your Curriculum Vitae states that you have previously participated in the legislative process regarding marriage equality in both New Hampshire and Connecticut. I am disturbed that you may use your misunderstanding of these cases in future testimony before legislative bodies. I am respectfully asking that you cease these misrepresentations in order to allow an honest discussion of the merits of present and future legislation.

Catania also pointed out Wilson’s ties to anti-gay hate groups and raised concerns about her private, political motivations:

I am further concerned that your misrepresentations may not have been accidental or inadvertent. Rather, your purported legal analysis and ethical judgment appear to be clouded by your political agenda. You are a member of the Virginia Marriage Commission, an organ of the Family Foundation of Virginia. The Family Foundation's stated goal is to promote the ideal that marriage "is the union between one man and one woman, [and] is an institution of God and a foundation of civil society."19 One of your colleagues at the Foundation is Maggie Gallagher, one of this country's most virulent opponents of marriage equality.20 The Foundation's partners include other well known right-wing organizations including the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, and the Alliance Defense Fund. In addition to opposing marriage equality, the Foundation opposes embryonic stem cell research, opposes the use of emergency contraceptives, and promotes the defending of Planned Parenthood. Your failure to disclose your involvement with this organization, combined with your blatant misrepresentations before the Council, leads me to question the independence of your analysis.

In closing, I am concerned about the ethical implications of your behavior and strongly caution you to consider your professional obligations of competency and candor. The democratic process depends upon an honest dialogue and open disclosure. As a professor of law, you should know better. [emphasis added]

Robert George

Robert George is a McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. He helped co-write a June 17 letter to the New York legislature, which argued that “rushing” to approve a marriage equality bill would be “a tragedy and a profound injustice.”

He’s been referred to as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker,” with one commentator even going so far as to say “If there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, its leaders probably meet in George’s kitchen.”

George is the Chairman Emeritus of the board for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and has a long history of anti-gay activism. George has argued that marriage equality will pave the way for polygamy and claims same-sex marriage will lead todisastrous effects” on children. As Wayne Besen, Founder of Truth Wins Out, wrote:

George's primary accomplishment has been denying gay couples the right to marry, by forming an unholy political union between conservative Catholics, like himself, and Evangelical Christians.

[…]

George is more back woods propagandist than deep professorial thinker.

Mary Ann Glendon

Mary Ann Glendon is a law professor at Harvard Law School and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. She helped author a letter to members of the New York legislature which warned that voting for marriage equality would be a “grave” and “inadvisable step.”

She has called marriage equality a “radical social experiment,” warning that “children will have to be taught about homosexual sex” and fear mongering about the threat posed by “alternative family forms”:

What same-sex marriage advocates have tried to present as a civil rights issue is really a bid for special preferences of the type our society gives to married couples for the very good reason that most of them are raising or have raised children.

[…]

Same-sex marriage will constitute a public, official endorsement… that marriage is mainly an arrangement for the benefit of adults; that children do not need both a mother and a father; and that alternative family forms are just as good as a husband and wife raising kids together. It would be tragic if, just when the country is beginning to take stock of the havoc those erroneous ideas have already wrought in the lives of American children, we should now freeze them into constitutional law. [emphasis added]

In 2009, Glendon became the first person in the 133-year history of Notre Dame to accept and then reject the university’s Laetare Medal. Glendon rejected the medal after learning that Notre Dame would also be offering an honorary degree to President Obama – a move that she argued violated a 2004 decree by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Catholic instituted shouldn’t honor those who act “in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

Matthew Franck

Matthew Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Center on Religion and the Constitution of the Witherspoon Institute. Along with Glendon and George, Franck signed on to the June 17 letter to the New York legislature asking for a “no” vote on the marriage equality bill. 

Franck criticized the Iowa Supreme Court for its decision to legalize same-sex marring, lamenting that the court “is now in the grip of a banal routinization of tyranny.” He called the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas – the 2003 case that struck down state laws criminalizing homosexuality – “incompetent” and “overreaching.” Hehas questioned the claim that being gay is an immutable characteristic and cheered on the “airtight case” for vacating Judge Vaughn Walker’s Prop 8 decision after it was discovered that Walker is gay (the motion to vacate Walker’s ruling was recently dismissed).

Franck has also attacked the Southern Poverty Law Center for compiling a list of anti-gay hate groups, arguing that groups like the Family Research Council are guilty of nothing more than expressing “vocal opposition to same-sex marriage.”

Joshua Baker

Josh Baker is a “legal analyst” for the National Organization for Marriage and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, where he has been employed since 2003. He has been working to promote the myth that marriage equality will endanger Catholic adoption agencies in New York.

Baker attended Oak Brook College of Law, an unaccredited distance-learning law school in California. According to its website, Oak Brook College of Law is a “Christian law school providing education and training in law and government policy in the context of a Biblical and historical framework.” Roger Magnuson, dean of the Oak Brook College of Law, wrote the 1990 book “Are Gay Rights Right?,” in which he claimed “Most homosexuals have had some experience with… sadomasochism, group orgies, bondage, or transvestism” and that “one-fifth of all homosexuals admitted to having sexual contact, or at least masturbating, with animals.” 

In 2003, Baker warned that a Supreme Court decision to overturn state sodomy laws could have “broad implications” for “marriage laws in every state.” He is an outspoken supporter of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, has argued in favor of restricting same-sex adoption rights, and helped co-author a study that attempted to demonstrate that same-sex couples weren’t really interested in marriage.

Carl Esbeck

Carl Esbeck is a law professor at the University of Missouri. He helped co-author a May 17 letter to the New York Senate warning about potential conflicts with religious groups if a marriage equality bill is passed.

Esbeck is the director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society (CLS), and sits on the organization’s Board of Directors. CLS’s mission is:

To inspire, encourage, and equip lawyers and law students, both individually and in community, to proclaim, love and serve Jesus Christ through the study and practice of law, the provision of legal assistance to the poor, and the defense of religious freedom & sanctity of human life.

CLS lists its nine organizational objectives, including:

To proclaim Jesus as Lord through all that we do in the field of law and other disciplines;

To provide a means of society, fellowship and nurture among Christian lawyers;

To encourage Christian lawyers to view law as ministry;

To clarify and promote the concept of the Christian lawyer and to help Christian lawyers integrate their faith with their professional lives; [emphasis added]

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the CLS in a case involving one of its student groups at the University of California Hastings. The Supreme Court upheld the university’s decision to revoke the student group’s recognition after the group barred membership to “unrepentant homosexuals.”

In fact, a number of CLS student groups across the country have faced losing recognition after violating university guidelines prohibiting discrimination against gay and lesbian students.  

Previously:

Religious Leaders Speak Out Against Expanded Religious Protections In New York

Memo To NY Republicans: Marriage Equality Bill Doesn’t Threaten Religious Liberties 

Conservative Guest Shredded For Supporting "Conscience Exemption" In NY Marriage Equality Bill