Over 100 newly-minted lawyers walked out of their own graduation at the University of Michigan Law School on Saturday to protest the ceremony’s commencement speaker, anti-gay Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). As Andrew Selbst, one of the student organizers of the walkout, explains, Portman’s chilly reception is merely the latest sign that the senator’s opposition to marriage equality and other basic human rights no longer has a place is American society:
The walkout was a statement to a broader audience – America. I think this whole episode fits within the thesis of Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter’s recent New York Times Op-Ed about King & Spaulding’s withdrawal from defending DOMA: The legal profession has simply moved past the point where LGBT rights are just another political issue, instead recognizing that discriminating against any group of people based on who they are is simply unacceptable in today’s society. This walkout, like the Op-Ed, like the Justice Department’s refusal to defend DOMA, is another data point for this observation. Here, even more specifically, we were saying that the for the next generation of lawyers, this is not even a debatable issue.
Watch Michigan Law grads walking out of Portman’s speech:
Selbst is correct that Portman and other proponents of discrimination are an increasingly lonely minority. Just seven short years after President George W. Bush wielded anti-gay bigotry as a sword to rally his own presidential campaign, the tide has turned in favor of equal treatment for all Americans. Two recent polls find that a majority of Americans support marriage equality, as opposed to just 36 percent shortly after Bush won the 2004 election.
Even if Portman did not find himself standing athwart history, however, Michigan’s selection of him as a law school graduation speaker is particularly ill considered. It’s unclear why a law school would choose to send off a class of new lawyers with a speech delivered by someone eager to violate the Constitution’s promise that all persons receive “the equal protection of the laws.”