A Message from Our Chair
A Historic Decision on Marriage Equality
The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.
Today marks a turning point in America’s history as a nation founded on principles of liberty and equality. The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges means that same sex couples in any state of the union may enjoy the rights, privileges and personal dignity of lawful marriage. I am proud of the role that Ropes & Gray, through our appellate team led by Doug Hallward-Driemeier, played in bringing about this historic outcome. I wanted to share some thoughts on what it means.
A civil rights landmark for the United States
In the Obergefell decision, a compelling legal case converged with an urgent moral one to once again enlarge the meaning of equal protection under the law. Today, our LGBT friends, family members, neighbors, and their families, won a right they should have had all along—to enjoy the legal protection and societal recognition that come with the institution of marriage.
The court held both that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and that it requires states to recognize same sex marriages licensed in other states. The court’s reasoning was exemplary in its humanity and common sense.
Protected fundamental liberties extend, Justice Kennedy wrote, to “personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.” He also noted that “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” Put simply, the justices reaffirmed that marriage is a fundamental right “inherent in the liberty of the person,” and found that as a result, same-sex couples may not be deprived of that right.
In the context of America’s evolving civil rights discourse, today’s decision is a new high-water mark in our conception of what Justice Kennedy once called “liberty in all its manifold possibilities.” America is a better country today than it was yesterday, because of this ruling.
Marriage equality and the firm
This is also a great day in the history of Ropes & Gray, one that I’m especially proud of in this year of our 150th anniversary. This firm’s heritage reflects an inborn commitment to freedom and equality, beginning with the pro-abolition activities and Civil War service of our founders and their families. Those roots generated a culture that embraces all races, religions, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and family structures.
For all of us at Ropes & Gray, today’s ruling means that the marriages and families of our LGBT colleagues will be accorded the respect and protection they deserve in every U.S. state. We applaud this decision as a reflection, writ large, of our own commitment, as a firm, to fostering an environment where all our people have an equal opportunity to flourish.
Independent groups have consistently cited Ropes & Gray among the nation’s leading firms in terms of diversity, including a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index for the past seven years. This index measures companies’ policies and practices related to LGBT employees, including the provision of spousal benefits to same-sex partners. Our score designates the firm as a “Best Place to Work for LGBT Equality.”
Our scores and awards for diversity should not make us complacent. We have more work to do in this area to reach the degree of diversity that befits a preeminent, global law firm. That said, I’m proud of the policies and programs we’ve put in place to help talented people advance, regardless of sexual orientation, race, color, gender, age, national origin, religion, disability or other legally protected category. Our workplace is immeasurably strengthened by the differing backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of our lawyers and staff, supported by our strong culture of mutual respect.
The pro bono connection
The firm’s connection to today’s decision goes further though. We came to this case from our distinguished history of pro bono work, particularly our work on LGBT issues and marriage equality. We’ve developed a reputation for assisting LGBT asylum-seekers and securing health care rights for transgender prisoners and people living with HIV. We have partnered with organizations that include Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Lambda Legal, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and more.
Specifically on marriage equality, our firm, in partnership with GLAD, Lambda Legal and other organizations, played an important role in previous efforts to establish marriage equality in New York and Maryland and to secure insurance and inheritance rights for same-sex married couples. We filed an amicus brief in the successful effort to establish marriage equality in Massachusetts, and signed onto another in the ultimately successful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
It’s a track record we can all be proud of, and I want to thank our pro bono team and all the lawyers who contribute their time to serving people and organizations in need.
Congratulations to our appellate and Supreme Court practice
Finally, our appellate and Supreme Court practice group should be taking a victory lap right now for their role in what was a heroic team effort.
Doug Hallward-Driemeier led the charge. He was supported by Justin Florence (business & securities litigation counsel); Tom Brown and Paul Kellogg (business & securities litigation associates); Emerson Siegle (litigation associate); Sophia Antzoulatos (litigation paralegal specialist) and Carole Murphy (legal executive assistant).
GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), the ACLU and Lambda Legal played pivotal roles in the case. Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director, argued the case in front of the court along with Doug. The NCLR, the ACLU and Lambda Legal represented various plaintiffs in the matter. In addition, Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal’s director of constitutional litigation as well as the wife of our New York health care partner Stephen Warnke, participated in mock arguments to help Doug and his team prepare. We are privileged to have such wonderful partners.
Today, all the hard work paid off. Marriage equality is the law of the land, thanks to these people and the plaintiffs they represented.
In closing, the Obergefell decision will go down in history alongside Brown v. Board of Education and other iconic civil rights milestones. It is a proud moment for the country and for Ropes & Gray. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I’m privileged that Doug and his team are my colleagues. Please join me in congratulating them.
R. Bradford Malt