Attorney Ted Olson credits his college debate coach as his inspiration to fight against Proposition 8 --California's law prohibiting same-sex marriages.
Olson spoke at the commencement for University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., his Alma mater, on May 5th. Olson is one of two lead attorneys who convinced a federal judge to overturn Proposition 8, a case widely believed will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I’m often asked how it was that I came to be involved in this case and when I first believed that discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong -- and must be combated," Olson said in his speech.
Olson gives great credit to his parents who taught against judging people by color or other immutable characteristics.
"But I also learned that here, from my fellow students, from the values taught here, and to our debate team and [debate coach] Paul Winters," Olson said. "Challenging state-sponsored, institutionalized discrimination was, without my knowing it at the time, exactly what he was training us, someday, to do.”
Olson was previously best known for arguing on behalf of George W. Bush before the Supreme Court during the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.
In his trip back to Pacific, Olson also marked his 50th class reunion that same weekend.
Read an excerpt from Olson's speech:
“[Pacific’s Debate Team Coach] Paul Winters taught us to see the other side of an argument, the other point of view and to respect and learn from our opponents. This not only made us better debaters, but it also instilled in us the instinct to discern what was wrong with our own arguments, to overcome our weaknesses and to understand that if we only saw things in one way, we would never triumph in argument, debate – or life. Our antagonist is our helper. Respect for our opponent also teaches us civility in discourse. On the debate team, we learned never to make faces, gestures, rustle papers, move about, whisper to our colleagues, or snicker when our opponents were speaking. That is doubly true in court. Behaving like that is the easiest way I know to put big letters on your chest that say ‘bush league,’ and to infuriate a judge in the process.”
“A few thoughts on teamwork and collegiality: Paul Winters taught us that we were a team first and individual competitors next. Our successes were the successes of our colleagues, and those who had helped us prepare, those who had pointed out our weaknesses before we entered the arena, and those who had inspired us and taught us how better to prepare, analyze and persuade. No one wins alone. Our team was incredibly diverse for a small campus in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley – women, men, black, white, Jewish, Indian, Asian, sighted and blind. We tended to be oblivious to the characteristics that might divide or separate us: gender, race, religion, ethnicity or anything else like that. As young students, that may have been our most important lesson. We not only saw beyond our differences, we did not even see our differences. So we left Pacific unwilling to accept bigotry or discrimination. And, hopefully, having learned the passion and courage to fight against it when we see it.”
“As you have heard, I have participated in a legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 which denies the right to marry to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters: the same equality, decency, recognition and status the rest of us take for granted. I’m often asked how it was that I came to be involved in this case and when I first believed that discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong – and must be combatted. I give great credit to my mother and father for teaching all of our family that it was wrong to put people in boxes – to judge them by their color or other immutable characteristics. But I also learned that here, from my fellow students, from the values taught here, and to our debate team and Paul Winters. Challenging state-sponsored, institutionalized discrimination was, without my knowing it at the time, exactly what he was training us, someday, to do.”
Watch his speech in the video above.