This week instead of my usual Ill-Equipped column, I have something to tell you about...
Two of our chicest friends, Tim Aitkens, a history buff who I love to hear talk about anything and Kevin Corn, an interior designer who is even more handsome than the homes he blesses with his design sense, invited me and my husband John to Tim's home for an afternoon tea. The occasion? Well, I didn't care about the occasion. We have a nine-month old baby girl, and the idea of spending an afternoon baby-free eating mini crustless sandwiches and dainty pastries while sipping tea in the garden sounded perfect. So I called my parents to see if they were free to make us free.
Unfortunately at the last minute, John couldn't go because he was faxed "new sides" for work the next day. That means he had pages and pages of new dialogue to memorize for his fourth shoot as--you're probably not expecting this--a Geico Caveman. Well maybe the photo tipped you off. (Yes, my husband is one of the Geico caveman which people can't get over and love to hear. This time, after his three hours of caveman make-up, he would be all dressed up in a pink sweater, white pants and a visor playing a round of golf with famous quarterback Phil Simms for some Super Bowl pre-show that will be airing next Sunday--if you're interested.)
So I went alone and was the only woman in a sea of dark jeans and jacketed gay men. The sunny afternoon was crisp, the bone white china was elegant and then when my friend Tom Moore walked in and said "Oh I love such and such"--using a French name for a pastry I too adore but didn't know how to properly name--I wished I was gay. I throw a beautiful party, but never as chic as what my gay friends come up with which makes it even that much more despicable and heartbreaking that our too-backwards-to-see-that-change-is-coming country doesn't allow gay men to legally marry. Of course I'm outraged that lesbians can't marry too, but at that moment I was thinking about the fabulous weddings I was missing out on that they weren't getting to plan!
As it turns out, gay marriage was the hot topic of the event. The Tea was an introduction to The Williams Institute the full name of which is The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy. Tim and Kevin had been so impressed when they learned of the work of The Williams Institute (I'll now repeat the name often so it will be on the tip of your lips) that they were moved and motivated to invite all of their friends over to learn more about it. And me, I was so impressed by what I learned during the 30-minute, informal presentation that afternoon that I had to write a HuffPost post about The Williams Institute myself.
Tim introduced Chuck Williams, an unassuming, t-shirt clad, friendly man in his late 60's who modestly explained that he had some money and had been planning on leaving it to an important cause when he died. But then he realized how much more exciting it would be to watch it be put to work.
Well thank goodness Mr. Williams changed his mind. Actually I think Dick Cheney should be kissing his feet because ultimately as a result of Chuck's decision which led him to found The Williams Institute, over time, fewer and fewer people in the republican party will think his pregnant daughter is not-a-fit mother just because she's gay. Which brings me to what The Williams Institute actually does. Please be forewarned this is an abbreviated, lay person's take on it peppered with some quotes from their website which you should definitely visit for the full, albeit somewhat dry, story.
The Williams Institute is a Think Tank, the first of its kinds, devoted solely to sexual orientation law and public policy--as it's name clearly states. Mr. Williams explained that there have been think tanks in existence for over 30 years devoted to fighting gay rights so The Williams Institute has had and continues to have a lot of catching up to do. He then introduced the very handsome executive director, Brad Sears who got us all fired up with some examples of their work.
THE WILLIAMS INSTITUTE SUPPORTS ORIGINAL RESEARCH
We need, Mr. Sears explained, lawyers who are fighting for same sex marriage to be armed with research that shows that it's actually good for society. For instance a recent paper published last month entitled ECONOMIC BENEFITS FROM SAME-SEX WEDDINGS IN NEW JERSEY by M.V. Lee Badgett predicts that if same-sex couples were allowed to marry, sales by New Jersey's wedding and tourism-related businesses would rise by $102.5 million per year. Also, the State's gross receipt tax revenues would rise by $7.2 million per year.
As my French-pastry-loving friend Tom commented, "I think ultimately the Republicans will not be able to resist the untapped commerce that looms on the horizon with the arrival of legal LGBT ceremonies/receptions: hair, flowers, rehearsal dinners... honeymoons, planners! Money, money money. We may eventually win not because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business. I love capitalism."
They also do original research to support the position, Cheney will be happy to know, that gay parents raise their kids just as well as straight parents.
Mr. Sears also talked about how backward employment discrimination law for LGBT really is explaining that in some/many states make it actually, and this is true, legal to fire people simply on the basis of their status. And in the same depressing vein, he talked about housing discrimination. But they are attacking it all, working on a strong constitutional argument that these laws are an impingement of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
THE WILLIAMS INSTITUTE TRAINS JUDGES--EVEN ONES IN UTAH!
The Williams Institute offers training sessions at state and federal judicial conferences to bring judges up to date on sexual-orientation law and public policy. Can you imagine, they recently led one such seminar at a conference for the judges of Utah! The judges there, Mr. Sears explained, were actually really honest about their beliefs (that some might call prejudices) about gay rights when they filled out their questionnaires. So they have it right there, in black and white, on paper!
At said training sessions, Judges learn things like the legal argument that non-biological parents should have their rights recognized if they act as "functional parents" for their children, or cases holding that public schools have a general duty under negligence theory to protect LGBT students from harassment and violence.
THE WILLIAMS INSTITUTE SPREADS THE WORD
The Institute has Fellows who are trained in sexual orientation law, two who have gone on to teach courses on Sexual Discrimination Law offered for the first time at other Law Schools in Alabama and New Jersey--if I remember correctly, but don't quote me on it.
And they do so much more. So if you are interested. Go to their website.
I'd love to see them continue their work but on a bigger scale. Of course the more people that know about it and ultimately support their work the better. So tell a friend.