U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli reflected Wednesday on LGBT progress in the past year and his own efforts in arguing on behalf of same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The attorney responsible for representing the U.S. government before the Supreme Court made the remarks in front of attorneys and law enforcement officials attending a Pride event at the Justice Department.
Two months after oral arguments before the Supreme Court in which he argued on behalf of the Obama administration, Verrilli said it’s “moving” to take part in a Pride event at the Justice Department and be near a potential Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage across the country. A decision in the case is expected this month.
“It is moving to reflect on the many courageous actions that our leadership has taken, particularly when you think of how much of the historical discrimination against gay and lesbian people that the federal government was actually responsible for,” Verrilli said. “It is moving, amazing really, to think that we are actually awaiting a definitive judgment from the Supreme Court on the question of whether gay and lesbian couples have an equal right to participate in the institution of marriage.”
Verrilli said the “argument against equality really does seem, well, untenable” and equal rights for LGBT people are assured in the long run regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court decides.
“We don’t know what the Supreme Court will rule when it announces its decision in the marriage cases later this month,” Verrilli said. “We hope, but we don’t know. What we do know for certain is our country is forever changed, immeasurably for the better, by your work and so many lives lived with integrity and courage and character.”
On April 28, Verrilli delivered oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the pending litigation, arguing state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
“Gay and lesbian people are equal,” Verrilli said at the time. “They deserve equal protection of the laws, and they deserve it now.”
Also speaking at the event was Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of LGBTQ Affairs for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Among other things, she talked about the need to structure government services, such as health care, to ensure they reach LGBT families.
“This diversity of experience presents us with the challenge…to end the assumption that LGBT people aren’t facing the same challenges or…the same concerns as those who are not LGBTQ identified,” Alexander-Reid said.
John Elias, president of the LGBT affinity group DOJ Pride, told the Blade he felt “privileged” to have Verrilli attend the event after speaking out on behalf of marriage equality before the Supreme Court.
“I think he’s been a very effective advocate and I also appreciated how personal it was to him, hearing his remarks on stage, talking about the LGBT individuals he’s personally known,” Elias said.
Also at the event, the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award for outstanding contributions to the LGBT community was given to Verrilli and acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery, who led the effort to expand marriage benefits to married same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
Sharon McGowan, deputy chief for the appellate section of the civil rights division, was given the James R. Douglas Award for efforts contributing to the work-life for LGBT employees at the Justice Department.