“It Is So Ordered”: Social Change and the Campaign for Marriage Equality

Background Information on the Symposium

          Last Term, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that the United States Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, held that marriage—a “keystone of our social order” and “essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations”—is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This landmark decision effectively ended the prolonged and much-publicized legal struggle for marriage access and dramatically altered the future of the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, intersex, and asexual (“LGBTQIA”) rights. However, while Obergefell’s immediate consequences for marriage access are obvious, the broader significance of the Court’s holding remains unclear.

          This Symposium ventured beyond Obergefell and the first-line issue of marriage to explore other aspects of the LGBTQIA movement’s efforts to achieve equal rights. In the wake of the Court’s decision regarding marriage access, numerous questions about LGBTQIA rights in other areas have begun to shift to the forefront, including issues such as incarceration, education, and employment, as well as “second generation” family topics such as divorce, child custody, and enforcement of judgments. Through two related panel discussions, we examined these challenges, and located the strategies employed in the campaign for marriage equality in the broader context of other movements that have attempted to use the law to change social and economic conditions in the United States. The Symposium facilitated a conversation among experts within different movements, who examined the roles that litigation, legislation, and social change campaigns took in various concerted movements for civil rights. Through this conversation, we evaluated these different strategies and examined how they have been effectively harnessed and leveraged to achieve social reform.

          While this event focused in large part on the future, it also honored the late Professor Tom Stoddard, whose work on behalf of the gay rights movement helped make the present landscape possible. This fall marks the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Hays Program’s Tom Stoddard Fellowship in the Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men, as well as the anniversary of the founding of the Madison Society, the precursor to the Journal, in which Professor Stoddard was influential. The Symposium served as a timely celebration of Professor Stoddard and his profound influence on the LGBTQIA rights movement.

          The Symposium organizers wish to extend our profound thanks to the New York University School of Law and to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, whose generous financial contribution helped make this event possible.


In Honor of Tom Stoddard 

          Thomas Stoddard was executive director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1986 to 1992, where he defended the civil rights of lesbians and gay men and became one of the earliest proponents of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples. Under Stoddard’s leadership, the New York-based Lambda grew from a staff of six to twenty-two and began its national expansion by establishing regional offices to serve lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS around the country. His remarkable legal career began in 1977 when he joined the law firm of Norwick, Raggio, Jaffe & Kayser. He later served as legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union and became its legislative director in 1982. Stoddard authored the 1986 ordinance passed by the New York City Council, which provided lesbians and gay men with protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

          Raised in Glenview, Illinois, Stoddard graduated from Georgetown University and later NYU School of Law, where he was a fellow in the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program. Beginning in 1981, Stoddard returned to NYU as an adjunct professor. While there, he taught “Sexual Orientation and the Law,” one of the first courses in the country devoted to legal issues confronting lesbians and gay men. He also helped found NYU’s Madison Society, a precursor to the Journal of Legislation and Public Policy

          In 1993, Tom married his longtime partner, Walter Rieman, another NYU Law graduate and lawyer, in a ceremony that was not recognized as legal at the time; they exchanged the vow, “I commit to you my life and my love for the rest of our days.” In 1997, at age 48, Stoddard died as a result of AIDS. In October 1995, the Hays Program at NYU Law established the Tom Stoddard Fellowship, through which a third-year law student works with public-interest organizations on LGBTQIA civil rights cases. Hundreds of friends and lawyers attended a benefit at the New York City Bar Association hosted to organize the fellowship. The New York Times reported: “After introductions and a video tribute, Mr. Stoddard rose to speak. ‘Day to day life is rather difficult for me these days,’ he said, ‘yet I have a good time at it.’ Closing with a paraphrase of Emerson — ‘I am defeated every day yet to victory I’m born’ — he stepped away from the lectern to a standing ovation.”


About the Hosts 

The New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy is a nonpartisan periodical specializing in the analysis of state and federal legislation. The Journal provides a forum for the discussion of contemporary legislative issues, focusing on legislative reform and the factors that affect the efficiency of legislative decision-making. We also examine the role of public policy in the creation of new legislative initiatives and the continuing interplay of legislation and public policy in the state and federal systems. Fall 2015 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Journal’s predecessor, the Madison Society, which was co-founded by Tom Stoddard, this year’s Symposium honoree, and Norman Dorsen, a co-director of the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program, which is a co-sponsor of the Symposium.

The Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program at New York University School of Law is the first and principal program of its kind in the United States. Since its formation in 1958, the directors and fellows have engaged in extensive research on civil liberties issues, participated in litigation, and undertaken special projects and conferences on topical constitutional issues. Above all, the Program has trained more than 300 law students for professional service on behalf of the public interest. The fellows, typically third-year NYU law students, assume one of the endowed fellowships in the Program.  This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the Tom Stoddard Fellowship in the Rights of Lesbians and Gay Men, in honor of Mr. Stoddard, who himself was a Hays Fellow from 1976-1977 and is this year’s Symposium honoree.


About Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP is a leading litigation and corporate law firm based in New York City. The firm’s guiding principles include achieving excellence in the practice of law and ensuring a pluralistic and democratic society. These principles are manifest in the firm’s commitment to its own diversity and in its substantial pro bono work. Paul, Weiss is regularly recognized for its social justice contributions. In 2015, the firm was named as one of Law360’s “Pro Bono All Stars” and was also honored by MFY Legal Service for its work securing justice for adult home residents. Litigation partner Roberta Kaplan, a speaker at this year’s Symposium, has been repeatedly recognized for her 2013 victory in United States v. Windsor, the landmark marriage equality case and important milestone in the LGBTQIA movement.