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JAMES ESSEKS THE LAWYER WHO HAD A MISSION


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ven as a Harvard law student, James Esseks knew what he wanted to do with his legal training: advance LGBT rights. He secured a position at a mid-sized law fi rm, where


he represented employees and did pro bono work on LGBT issues. But his heart was still set on doing that kind of work full time. So when the opportunity came to serve as director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, he jumped at it. T at was more than 12 years ago. “I feel passionately about doing the work because I understand the chal-


lenges LGBT people face. I am a gay man and so these issues are not just of professional interest but of personal interest as well,” says Esseks, who mar- ried his partner of more than 20 years last fall, months after the Supreme Court’s ruling. So the high court’s groundbreaking decision, he says, only heightens the feeling of both personal and professional satisfaction. Esseks sees himself as part of a nearly


80-year legacy of the ACLU’s fi ght for the rights of gay people. T e ACLU took on its fi rst gay rights case in 1936 when a censor in Boston prohibited “T e Children’s Hour,” a play consid- ered controversial for its time because it explored a lesbian matter, from being staged there. T e ACLU took the case to federal court, but the ban was upheld. In 1970, the ACLU brought the nation’s fi rst freedom to marry case to court on behalf of two young men in Minnesota but was unsuccessful. “T e marriage movement starts


in 1970 and gets going again in the 1990s in Hawaii,” says Esseks, referring to a marriage equality case that crept through the Hawaii court system in the late 1990s. “T e break- through is in fall of 2003.”


T at breakthrough came about when


the Supreme Court of Massachusetts ruled that gays could marry. It was the fi rst ruling of its kind in the country. T e ruling inspired a raft of marriage equal- ity lawsuits in several other states, includ- ing Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, New York, and Maryland. T e ACLU fi led some of these lawsuits. Esseks says striking down DOMA


was just one of two goals in the fi ght for marriage equality. “T e other goal we have is to


ensure that couples can get married in all 50 states,” he says. In November 2012, the areas


that permitted same-sex marriage represented 11 percent of the popula- tion. Today, he says, 37 percent of the nation’s population lives in the 16 states and the District of Columbia that permit gay marriage. Now it's time for the rest of the


United States. “We are working in state legisla-


tures to pass more marriage bills. We are working on ballot campaigns. We are hoping to put on the ballot initia- tive questions in those states that have a constitutional amendment against marriage.”


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PAMELA KARLAN THE PROFESSOR


MCCA.COM


amela Karlan, 55, has been described as a favorite of the left for her work in public interest law, voting rights, and equality issues. Karlan, who has publicly identifi ed as a lesbian, has been mentioned


in some circles in Washington as a possible Supreme Court nominee. Recently appointed to a high-profi le Justice Department post overseeing voting rights issues, Karlan declined to be interviewed for


this story, citing her new responsibilities. Until her appointment last December, Karlan, who joined the Windsor team


at the behest of Kaplan, was a popular and award-winning law professor at Stanford. Students in her Supreme Court Litigation Clinic were part of the large cast of lawyers and law students who worked on the Windsor case. Hundreds of pages of the documents written by her students were examined


by the justices before they reached their 5-4 decision. Under her supervision, the students spent months drafting the documents and fl ew to Washington to hear oral arguments. D&B


MARCH/APRIL 2014 DIVERSITY & THE BAR®


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