Ted Olson Defends Gay Marriage

Former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson is making a zealous case for same-sex marriage. Why are people surprised?

Steve Clemons points to this video of former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson passionately advocating for the idea of same-sex marriage:

and comments:

It is simply remarkable to watch and hear former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson make the clearest, strongest case for the full civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans — indeed, all Americans — that I have ever heard.

What surprises me is that anyone — and Steve is hardly alone in this — is that anyone is surprised.

First, Olson is a world class trial lawyer.  He wasn’t appointed Solicitor General because he was a Bush crony.

Second, Olson has been hired to represent that pro-gay marriage side.  Of course he’s going to zealously argue his clients’ position.

Third, there’s no reason to think Olson is some sort of a social conservative firebrand.   He’s married to a registered Democrat and supported Rudy Giuliani’s ill-fated 2008 presidential bid.  And argued in a joint Newsweek op-ed with David Boies (“The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage“) that same-sex marriage is “an American value.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Olson also stands as an example of the fact that not all political conservatives are necessarily social conservatives.



  2. Jay says:

    The only people who are surprised are ideologues.
    Ideological liberals are surprised because Olson successfully represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore and he was Bush’s solicitor general for 4 years. He was also married at one time to Barbara Olson, a conservative and very vocal critic of both Bill and Hillary Clinton.
    Ideological conservatives are surprised for the same reasons.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Perhaps I’m misreading you, but you seem to think a significant motivation for Olsen is his payment for taking on the case.  This seems unlikely to me, for the following reasons: he is a very famous, very well connected lawyer, and so should be able to pick and choose the cases he wants; and, inasmuch as he has special appeal as a lawyer, it is to conservatives, and any transitory monetary gain due to this case will likely be more than offset by his lessening of appeal to conservatives.

  4. James Joyner says:

    he is a very famous, very well connected lawyer, and so should be able to pick and choose the cases he wants

    True enough. I’m mostly making a generic argument on that one:  I’m always astounded that people are surprised when lawyers take their client’s positions, as if that means they believe everything they say on the matter. But, yes, Olson would certainly have declined the case if he had strong objections, given his ability to pick and choose.



  5. Todd Kiehn says:

    Good stuff.  I only wish he would use his talents to persuade a few percentage points of California voters to change their minds, rather than going to court to invalidate their votes. . .

  6. carpeicthus says:

    Olson believes in it, beyond the case. See his article in Newsweek (which was illustrated by one of my photos).

  7. Robert in SF says:

    I keep in mind one point about the aspect of him arguing the case for the pro-equal rights side:
    Lawyers are paid advocates.
    They are hired specifically to present your side in a matter…they aren’t paid to be “right”, they are paid to function as someone arguing all the points they can for your side of the case.
    They might believe you are wrong or “guilty” but they aren’t there to find out what’s right or wrong, guilty or not guilty. They are there to argue the points of the case for the side they represent.

  8. Robert in SF says:

    Not to imply that he wasn’t a firm believer in what he was saying or advocating…just that lawyers can be hired to advocate your side, and shouldn’t be judged just because they take a case…

  9. An Interested Party says:

    “I only wish he would use his talents to persuade a few percentage points of California voters to change their minds, rather than going to court to invalidate their votes. . .”

    Under that line of reasoning, people should have the “right” to practice discrimination and segregation against other ethnic groups, if a majority vote for such things…

  10. matt says:

    The funny thing for me is that the liberal “elite” and gay leaders were pissed when they heard that Ted was going to do this. They thought for sure that Ted and crew would lose setting back gay rights a generation or two. Hell I have to admit that even I was beginning to wonder if litigation was a good idea or not but the poll numbers are looking better then ever after this ruling..

  11. An Interested Party says:

    re: matt Thursday, August 12, 2010. 21:32

    That’s a good point…it seems like a similar dynamic that took place during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s when some in the movement urged caution in proceeding while others wanted to push faster for change…looks like Olson and Boies may very well be proven right in pushing forward in this new Civil Rights Movement…

  12. Is Olson even getting anything for this?  Was he hired for this, or did he and Boies decide to take it on in the public interest?  After all, I have to think the bills would be pretty large at this point, and only getting more expensive.