Hero of the Month: Ted Olson

I’ve never voted for a Republican, and I don’t expect to. I disagree with them on too many issues. Nevertheless, I feel that we, as a community, will advance much more quickly if two parties are vying for our support rather than just one. So I take interest when a Republican shows support for LGBT rights, whether it be Meghan McCain, Laura Bush or Dick Cheney.

Three weeks ago, I toyed with the idea that Republicans, not Democrats, would make an appeal to gay voters in 2016 by claiming responsibility for ushering in marriage equality. This strange vision continues to take shape and I am beginning to think that it could become real. Glen Beck and Elizabeth Hasselbeck, of all people, now support marriage equality. The much-reviled Ken Mehlman, the engineer of Bush’s reelection in 2004, is raising major dollars for AFER. These developments are disorienting, but in a good way.

I think Ted Olson has been a catalyst for these changes, and, for that reason, he is my hero of the month. To have someone with Olson’s stature in the Republican party champion the cause of marriage equality is unprecedented. Olson, with David Boies, has spearheaded the federal challenge to Prop 8 and, perhaps even more importantly, has been ubiquitous in making the case to the public in both liberal and conservative media outlets. He has forced many conservatives to confront their assumptions and take our arguments seriously. For instance, check out his interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, where Wallace trots out the conventional conservative talking points, only to have them systematically demolished by Olson. In the end, Wallace capitulates.

David Boies has also been a tremendous ally, of course. Boies’s withering cross-examinations of Prop 8 witnesses turned them into witnesses for us, which is not an easy thing to do. He is truly a fierce advocate.

That being said, Olson is blazing a new trail. Republican supporters of LGBT rights face a much more hostile climate in their party than Democrats do. To oversimplify, Boies’ showing support is like a straight ally flying a rainbow flag in San Francisco — inspiring and much appreciated, but not unprecedented. Olson’s support is like flying one in Itawamba County, Mississippi. It takes extra guts to publicly challenge such a mainstay of your party’s platform. Olson does so with equanimity and seems to relish the challenge.

I have never understood why supporting marriage equality (or, for that matter, allowing open service of gays and lesbians in the military) should be particularly liberal positions. As Olson has pointed out, conservative values include encouraging stable relationships through marriage and protecting the liberty of the country’s citizens. Unfortunately, conservative practice hasn’t always followed conservative principles where the pet causes of the evangelical right are concerned.

Let’s hope that more and more Republicans follow Olson’s lead. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to argue with his fellow party members about LGBT civil rights, and can focus on arguing with them about other issues. Like health care. And climate change. And immigration. And gun control. And a woman’s right to choose. And military spending. Etc., etc.


Liz Newcomb is an attorney by day and committed LGBT activist by night and weekend. She has worked as a researcher at the Williams Institute. While in law school at UCLA, she was Articles Editor of the LGBT law journal. Liz lives in West Hollywood with her wife, Lynne. They are one of the 18,000 California same-sex couples who got married during the summer before proposition 8 passed. Liz has lived in California for over 20 years and brings a left coast perspective to AMERICAblog.

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