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Prop 8 attorney helping Romney campaign with debate prep

Olson’s assistance criticized as ‘completely counter’ to his marriage equality goals

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Ted Olson speaks at the Cato Institute

Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

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.

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The White House

Biden, Harris, deliver remarks for White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Pulse survivor Brandon Wolf among those who spoke

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris listen as U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.) addresses an audience in the Rose Garden including federal, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence prevention advocates on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wolf)

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) addressed an audience from the Rose Garden of the White House on Friday to honor the establishment of a first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

In a press release Thursday announcing the move, the administration said its aim is to implement and expand the provisions of last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act along with those contained in the president’s executive orders targeting issues of gun violence.

Additionally, Biden explained in his remarks, the office will coordinate more support for survivors, families and communities, including mental health services and financial aid; identify new avenues for executive action; and “expand our coalition of partners in states and cities across America” given the need for legislative solutions on the local and state level.

Harris, who will oversee the office, pledged to “use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right.”

The vice president noted her close experiences with the devastating consequences of gun violence in her work as a federal prosecutor, San Francisco district attorney, California attorney general and in her current role.

Biden’s comments also included highlights of his administration’s accomplishments combatting gun violence and a call to action for Congress to do more. “It’s time again to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he told lawmakers.

The president also credited the the work of advocates including those who were gathered at the White House on Friday: “all of you here today, all across the country, survivors, families, advocates — especially young people who demand our nation do better to protect all; who protested, organized, voted, and ran for office, and, yes, marched for their lives.”

Taking the stage before introducing Biden, Frost noted that “Right before I was elected to Congress, I served as the national organizing director for March for Our Lives, a movement that inspired young people across the nation to demand safe communities.”

“The president understands that this issue especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” the congressman said. And the formation of this office, “comes from Pulse to Parkland,” he said, adding, “we fight because we love.”

Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, which was America’s second deadliest mass shooting and the deadliest against the LGBTQ community, shared a comment with the Washington Blade after Friday’s ceremony:

“Seven years ago, when my best friends and 47 others were murdered at our safe place — Pulse Nightclub — we promised to honor them with action. This is what that looks like. This deep investment in the fight to end gun violence matters, and I cannot wait to see Vice President Harris lead these efforts. We can blaze the path toward a future free of gun violence. And today marked an important step in that direction.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The White House

Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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