Ted Olson and Prop 8 | Friend or Foe

Prop 8 and Citizens United Super Lawyer 

By Kristina Lapinski, January 21, 2014.

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Ted Olson and Chad Griffin at AFER Press Conference, Ninth Circuit Court, San Francisco, Photo by Kristina Lapinski ©2011

Just below the surface, politics is a horribly messy entangled web of personalities, egos, and conflicting interests with an ultimately mysterious and unknowable truth buried at the center. Whatever happens behind closed doors and the true motives of those in power can only be theorized and never truly known, and the mysterious chain of cause and effect all too often appears as a simplified Shakespearean performance on a national political stage, whose characters are further masked by make-up and edited for digestible TV sound bytes.

On the surface, the Prop 8 lawsuit appeared to be a relatively simple case- 2 couples/ 4 plaintiffs seeking marriage equality, led by the all-star legal team Ted Olson and David Boies, bankrolled by Hollywood celebrities, with then AFER President and now HRC President Chad Griffin at the helm, coming together to take on Proposition 8, the California constitutional amendment which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

The highly publicized case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where marriage equality for the state of California was essentially upheld on a technicality. All said and done, it was a rousing success, bringing joy to the LGBT community in California and allies across the nation.

But there is one player in this fight who has always bothered me, whose chain of “cause and effect” has always felt like an ironic and paradoxical smack of messy political realities.

Flash back 2000: The Supreme Court is deciding the fate of the country and who will take the reigns of power in the infamous case of Bush v. Gore. George Bush was represented by Ted Olson, and Al Gore represented by David Boies.

The self identified conservative Ted Olson, in one of the most contentious races of all time, and with the help of the Supremes, delivered his client the Presidency of the United States of America.

The chain of events plays in my mind as follows:

  • Ted Olson delivers George W. Bush the Presidency -(the man who stole the election to start with, royally screws the country, launching the United States and other countries into an unnecessary war, based on lies);
  • Bush delivers a 2004 State of the Union address, pandering to his Radical Right constituency by promising a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage;
  • San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, attending the State of the Union as Speaker Pelosi’s guest, is so incensed at Bush’s promise, that when he returns home to San Francisco, he opens the doors of City Hall for same-sex couples to get married;
  • The Radical Right in California reacts against Mayor Newsom and launches the Proposition 8 ballot initiative; and
  • AFER challenges Proposition 8 in the Courts, Chad Griffin hires Ted Olson as lead counsel (a full circle WTF moment).

And now for the “What If,” an alternative chain of events, I wish had happened, which would take Ted Olson out of the picture:

  • David Boies wins the case and Al Gore becomes President;
  • The country actually does something about global warming and bonus we never go to war, thousands of lives spared; and
  • National marriage equality is achieved much sooner through a more liberal Supreme Court.

Okay, ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda.’  And now to my point, how can we make a hero of Ted Olson when this was all partly his fault to begin with?

Not to mention the fact that he is STILL a conservative, AND was a major architect of that horrible Citizens United case (the one that allows unlimited political contributions from corporations effectively robbing our democracy.)

Ted Olson gave a few great sound bytes to the national media, gave his all to the Proposition 8 case, notwithstanding his million dollar fees, and he becomes the nice guy… but I am reluctant to call him a hero by any stretch of the imagination.

With “The Case Against 8” now playing at Sundance and all the accolade, I began to wonder how the ‘hero’ Ted Olson would be preserved for posterity and portrayed to the masses, to the people who haven’t connected an insidious chain of events.

Lest we forget that nothing ever is as it seems.

More about filmmaker, Kristina Lapinski, from GAY U.S.A. the Movie. 

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6 Comments on “Ted Olson and Prop 8 | Friend or Foe”

  1. Laura January 21, 2014 at 8:59 PM #

    You know what? You don’t have a clue about Bush vs. Gore and the legal ramifications about Gore’s petition. Ted Olson was doing a job and doing it well.

    • Melanie Nathan January 22, 2014 at 8:57 AM #

      Yes he sure did do his job well….. Read Alan Dershowitz’s book on the Supremes and how they dumped Bush on the USA. No one is speaking in this article about the LEGAL ramifications of Gore and and Bush. Thats not the thesis….

  2. charlesohalloranboyd January 21, 2014 at 10:20 PM #

    Trust me, I dislike George W. Bush’s presidency as much as you do. That attempted Federal Marriage Amendment made Bush one of the 5 worst presidents ever. But I don’t think your criticisms of Olson are fair. In the first place, Olson did not make Bush pursue homophobic policies–that was Bush’s choice. In the second place, Al Gore also supported DOMA at the time he was running and had a record of rank homophobia, so I don’t think a Gore administration would have been that great for gay rights. Third, questions of economics, like the issues of the Citizens United case, are complex and can be disagreed about by good people. The issue of equal rights, by contrast, is very cut and dry, and I believe that we should be pleased to see people on the Right and Left coming together to support equal rights. To my mind, a person who stands up for equal rights is a hero, regardless of their economic views or party affiliation. I am a fiscal conservative, but my greatest personal hero, Wendell Phillips, was a Socialist. Two of my other greatest personal heroes, MLK and Bayard Rustin, were also Socialists. Depending on who else was running, I would certainly consider supporting Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2016. Why? Because all of these individuals were (and in Sanders’ case are) warriors for equal rights. So is Ted Olson.

    • Melanie Nathan January 22, 2014 at 9:03 AM #

      Well the article begs the question – and one must consider the hard truth and the bottom line….

      Olson gets paid millions of dollars through the case, money raised by AFER from LGBT people and Olson continues to feed conservative venues with his knowledge, services and money.

      No one is saying Olson made Bush homophobic policies, but the article is saying that Olson helped put a homophobe in the WhiteHouse and that he continues to support homophobic organizations.

      No one doubts that Olson cares about his case and did a great job representing his clients.

      Food for thought is what this article is about.

  3. Robin Tyler January 22, 2014 at 9:11 AM #

    I sat in the Supreme Court during the Prop. 8 hearing. Ted Olson did not do well. When one of the judges said that ‘gays raising children’ is just an experiment, (and nobody knows how it will turn out) Ted Olson did not have a reply. He could have quoted dozens of studies in our favor about this, but he didn’t. In fact, he was weak in his rebuttals. This legal team was paid millions and millions of dollars. Although I am happy that someone did Federally challenge Proposition 8, even though it’s defeat (upheld because of a technicality) was a win, it was not the huge win that AFER made it out to be. And then, Oslon (& Boise), cheered on by the Pied Piper of Prop 8, Chad Griffith, went on to say that they would bring marriage equality to the entire country within 5 years. Meanwhile, our LGBT legal organizations along with the ACLU and the Freedom to Marry and activists and plaintiffs are doing just that. Robin Tyler


  1. Ted Olson and Prop 8 | Friend or Foe | Daily Queer News - January 22, 2014

    […] Read more […]

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