A lead attorney in the federal lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8 is facing criticism from a gay Democratic group for assisting the Romney campaign with debate preparation despite the ticket’s support for policies that would undo his work against the same-sex marriage ban.
Ted Olson, who’s been litigating against Prop 8 on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, is set to play the role of Vice President Joseph Biden in debate practice against Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Buzzfeed and Politico reported the news Saturday morning, which was confirmed to the Washington Blade by Brendan Buck, a Ryan spokesperson working on the Romney campaign.
“Joe Biden has been in elected office for more than 40 years,” Buck said. “There are few people in politics with more experience debating the issues than Joe Biden, so we are taking this process seriously. Mr. Olson is one of the most skilled, intelligent, and successful litigators in America– just the kind of opponent needed to prepare the congressman for Mr. Biden.”
Buck said Olson will receive no compensation from the Romney campaign for his role impersonating Biden as part of debate preparation.
But Olson’s involvement with the Romney campaign came to the consternation of one LGBT group aligned with the Democratic Party.
Jerame Davis, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Olson’s assistance to the Romney campaign demonstrates the former solicitor general is “subject to the same cognitive dissonance” as other conservative who vote against their own interests in favor of ideological purity.
“After he has spent as much time, money, and reputation on overturning Prop 8 as he has, it’s shocking to learn that Ted Olson would lift a finger to help the Romney-Ryan ticket during debate prep,” Davis said. “The Romney-Ryan ticket stands completely counter to the goals of AFER and Ted Olson’s stated belief that Prop 8 should be overturned. I have always been concerned that the architect of Bush v. Gore was one of the lead attorney’s in the fight to overturn Prop 8, but I honestly never expected Olson to so blatantly contradict his own argument by supporting a ticket that would stand squarely in opposition to what he calls one of the most important cases of his career.”
Olson, who served as U.S. solicitor general under former President George W. Bush, isn’t a stranger to advocating on behalf of Republican presidential candidates. Olson was the lead attorney representing the Bush candidacy in Bush v. Gore, the lawsuit that helped Bush win his first term in the White House. David Boies, who’s partnering with Olson in the Prop 8 lawsuit, represented then-Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in the lawsuit.
Since his time with the Bush administration, Olson has come out in favor of marriage equality — calling his work against Prop 8 the “highlight of my life” — and has spoken before LGBT groups about his support for same-sex marriage. As a result of the litigation that Olson has spearheaded, a U.S. district court in California and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled against California’s marriage ban. On September 20, Olson is set to be a keynote speaker at the National Log Cabin Republicans “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner in D.C.
Olson’s assistance with the Romney campaign is noteworthy because both Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Ryan support policies that would contravene the attorney’s work against Proposition 8. The two candidates backs a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country. In 2008, Romney donated $10,000 through a political action committee to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage as part of efforts to pass the Prop 8 at the ballot.
An AFER spokesperson deferred to the Romney campaign for questions about why Olson was helping the Republican ticket even though the candidates back policies that directly conflict with the work of the organization. The Human Rights Campaign, which is now headed by AFER board member Chad Griffin, didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment even though HRC has endorsed President Obama in the presidential election.
Other LGBT and progressive groups had mixed reactions.
Rick Jacobs, chair of the progressive grassroots group the Courage Campaign, said he hopes Olson spends part of his time working with the Romney campaign to bring them to the other side on the issue of marriage equality.
“You would be hard pressed to find a Republican that has done more to advance the cause of marriage equality than Ted Olson,” Jacobs said. “You would be also hard pressed to find Republicans who would do more to rollback hard fought advances in LGBT rights than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. I have known Ted for more than 25 years and I know his commitment to equality is real and unshakable. I hope he spends some of the hours he will spend with Congressman Ryan educating him that this is the civil rights issue of our time and that he and his running mate stand squarely on the wrong side of history.”
Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, responded to the news by saying he appreciates Olson’s work against Prop 8, but prefers Olson when takes on roles that are more favorable to marriage equality.
“It’s been striking, and effective, that someone as conservative as Ted Olson so strongly and eloquently supports the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said. “That said, I like it better when Ted plays Evan Wolfson.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, defended Olson by saying many conservatives support the Romney campaign and a Federal Marriage Amendment doesn’t have a shot passing even though Romney and Ryan support it.
“Ted Olson — like most conservatives — is focused on defeating Barack Obama and rebuilding our economy,” LaSalvia said. “The Federal Marriage Amendment didn’t have a chance of passing eight years ago, and it doesn’t have a prayer of passing now.”
Same-sex marriage could return to California soon depending on the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court later this month. If the Supreme Court declines to take up the appeal of the lawsuit, the Ninth Circuit decision overturning Prop 8 would stand, allowing gay couples to wed in California.