Annual Meeting 2010

ABA Backs Marriage Equality for Gays and Lesbians

  • Print video of the floor debate on Res. 111.

Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry in civil ceremonies, the ABA’s policy-making House of Delegates declared on Tuesday. The measure passed on a voice vote.

A lineup of ABA leaders, both past and present, spoke in favor of the resolution. Incoming ABA President Stephen Zack asked “Why would anyone in this country not want two people who love each other to enjoy the blessings of marriage and the protections of law?”

Former ABA President Tommy Wells told the House that “our citizens of the same sex who are being denied the right to a civil marriage are only seeking to participate in an equal basis in a foundational institution of our civil life. They simply want to share in the legal blessings that we give to married couples. It can only strengthen marriage.”

Only Leslie W. Jacobs, past president of the Ohio State Bar Association and a partner in the Cleveland office of Thompson Hine, spoke against the measure. He sought to table the motion, which was ruled out of order. “I have reluctantly concluded that silence on an issue of political correctness is cowardice,” he told the House.

“What we do [in the House] seriously affects our perception in lawmaking forums. If we are perceived to be off-base on something that lawmakers readily understand, I don’t think they can be expected to defer to us on something on which they don’t understand,” he said.

Resolution 111 (PDF) had been gaining momentum in the House since a U.S. district court judge ruled last week in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution. On Saturday, Laurence Tribe, the U.S. Justice Department’s senior counselor for access to justice, speculated during a program at the annual meeting that there is a good chance the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold the district court ruling, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy likely providing the swing vote.

In an interview after he participated in a Sunday morning program, David Boies, one of the lead plaintiffs attorneys in Perry, said it would be “significant” if the ABA comes out in support of marriage equality. “The ABA obviously is the most respected legal organization in the United States, and probably the world, and its opinion will be listened to by legislators and courts,” he said.

The House has long supported the legal rights of gays and lesbians. Among its actions:

• In 1989, it urged passage of statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

• In 1995, it opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in matters of child custody.

• In 2004, it adopted policy opposing efforts to enact a federal constitutional amendment that would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriage.

• Last August, it urged repeal of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act; that section denies federal marital benefits and protections to lawfully married same-sex spouses.

Last updated Aug. 11 to add video from

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