News & Politics

Georgetown Law Students Celebrate Gay Rights . . . and Ted Olson?

It would’ve been next to impossible a year ago to imagine that GOP super lawyer Theodore Olson—the man who won George W. Bush the White House—would be the most popular guy in the room at an event celebrating gay rights. But last night, he was the guest of honor at the annual dinner for the Georgetown Law student group Outlaw, which focuses on legal issues confronting gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

When he signed on in 2009 to represent same-sex couples in a suit to overturn Proposition 8, California’s gay-marriage ban, Olson became an unlikely new advocate for the gay-and-lesbian community. Also surprising: the fact that his firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—which, like Olson, has a not-so-liberal reputation—has hosted the Outlaw dinner at its Connecticut Avenue offices for the past four years. DC partner Elizabeth Ising, a lesbian and a mother of three, invited the group to hold its annual party at the firm after members told her they previously celebrated with lasagna in a campus lecture hall.

Last night, they dined on a much more refined spread as they listened to Olson describe his reasons for bringing the case—which he considers the most important of his life—and the arguments he presented during the trial held earlier this year in California federal court.

Olson recalled suggesting to his partners that he should invite New York litigator David Boies to team up on the matter. They were skeptical—after all, Boies, a prominent Democrat, represented Al Gore in the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 election. Professional battles aside, Olson and Boies are actually close friends, and Boies signed on immediately. Olson explained that the seemingly “weird” pairing has generated even more attention for the matter.

Olson said he has never agreed with state interference in marriage, and before he was asked to represent the gay couples in the suit, he revealed: “I actually had been called by someone who asked if I would defend Prop 8, and I said no, I wouldn’t do that, and I didn’t want the firm to do that.”

He got a lot of laughs when he recounted that during the trial, the defense made the argument that marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples because they can procreate. Olson countered that his mother—now 90 years old—got married a few years ago, and no one is expecting a new baby anytime soon.

A verdict is still pending in the trial, but the fight won’t end there. Whoever loses will undoubtedly appeal, and Olson ultimately plans to take the case all the way to his favorite venue: the Supreme Court.

Olson brushes aside speculation that the high court is still too conservative for same-sex marriage to have a shot: “Civil rights aren’t won by people being afraid to lose a case.”

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Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.