Just over a year ago, two Yale Law School students were married in San Francisco weeks after the city began granting same-sex marriage licenses. This year, the relevance and importance of the issue piqued the interest of some of their classmates, who went on to organize a same-sex marriage symposium at the Law School, which begins today.
The Law School will host a conference entitled “Breaking with Tradition: New Frontiers for Same Sex Marriage” today and tomorrow, featuring panels on same-sex marriage in foreign nations, marriage discrimination, and federalism. The idea for the symposium was motivated by the national controversy surrounding same-sex marriage, which has forced many students and professors to rethink traditional conceptions of marriage as a civil, social and ecclesiastical institution.
Yale law professor Kenji Yoshino, who is scheduled to speak at the symposium, said that same-sex marriage is a critical issue of our time and the symposium will unite people from different backgrounds to discuss the issue.
“One of the really important things about the conference is that it brings together people who are practitioners with people who are theorists to move litigation in this area,” he said.
Yoshino added that the Law School is an obvious place to hold the conference because of its reputation for having many faculty members who are experts on marriage and related issues.
“Yale Law School has traditionally been known for its constitutional law expertise and social justice aims,” Yoshino said.
Symposium co-director Jason Smith LAW ’06 said that same-sex marriage is a burgeoning area of law currently.
“It is extremely controversial,” Smith said. “A lot of action is happening or will happen soon.”
Smith’s co-director Hugh Eastwood LAW ’06 said the law is in flux regarding same-sex marriage both within the United States and around the world.
“The inclusion of gay men and lesbians within the institution of marriage is an enormous step forward toward the full and equal participation of homosexuals within our society,” Eastwood said.
The purpose of the symposium is not to convince attendees to support or oppose same-sex marriage, but to address some of the critical legal questions on the subject, Eastwood said. Still, organizers expect attendees will be largely supportive of same-sex couples having some form of civil union.
“[The symposium] will definitely not come out for or against any particular outcome in the debate,” Smith said. “But it is does take as its starting point that sexual minorities are equal in the eyes of the law and there is no question that they deserve equal benefits and privileges in the eyes of the law.”
Smith said he has not seen as much support from his classmates for the symposium as he had originally expected.
“I have gotten a lot more positive responses from people outside the Law School — Medical School, Divinity [School] and psychiatry and some undergraduates — some have changed their spring break plans to stay here and attend the conference,” Smith said.
Although there was a tiff with conservative students over choosing speakers, Smith said he has not seen any overt negative action towards the symposium.
“We did try to enlist a group that has been historically overtly conservative we asked them to cosponsor a panel … and they chose a pundit who had no legal training,” Smith said, who would not reveal the group’s name.
After refusing to allow the “pundit” to attend the conference, the conservative group refused to participate, Smith said.
Some of the speakers at the conference include Harvard women’s history professor Nancy Cott — a former Sterling Professor of History at Yale — who will discuss the role of history in the same-sex marriage debate; lawyer Joanna Radbord, who has worked extensively on same-sex marriage cases in Canada; and Yale law professors William Eskridge, Reva Siegel and Yoshino.