the Courts to Wage a War on Gay Marriage
The New York Times
May 9, 2004
LONGWOOD, Fla. -
The map that hangs above Liberty Counsel's weekly planning meeting
measures the small firm's national reach, with color-coded tabs
marking the status of 33 active cases in 13 states.
Their agenda: stop
same-sex marriage by using the courts.
>From an unmarked beige tin warehouse near a railway line at
an address they insist on keeping secret, Liberty Counsel has
employed a range of legal tactics to fight same-sex marriage across
"This is the
central command center for the defense of traditional marriage
against the same-sex marriage movement," said Mathew D. Staver,
president, general counsel and founder of the firm. "We will
use every means the law can provide."
Supporters of same-sex
marriage say Liberty Counsel and other conservative organizations
have had a strong impact on their efforts.
"We used to
be up against the government when fighting for gay rights, but
more and more often we find ourselves also battling against Liberty
Counsel and similar organizations," said Jon W. Davidson,
a Los Angeles-based senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a legal organization
fighting for gay rights. "It is clear in the case of same-sex
marriage that the religious right has started using legal tactics
normally associated with liberal and progressive groups like the
A.C.L.U. or N.A.A.C.P."
Other groups are
fighting same-sex marriage, including the Alliance Defense Fund
in Arizona and the American Center for Law and Justice in Virginia.
But it is Liberty Counsel that has been at the forefront of the
legal battles. Mr. Staver's firm obtained the restraining order
that stopped the mayor of New Paltz, N.Y., from issuing marriage
licenses to same-sex couples.
The weekly meeting
map shows that same-sex marriage remains a prime focus for Liberty
Counsel. Yellow tags mark four states where officials have recognized
or conducted same-sex marriages, matched by four blue tags that
signify the firm's lawsuits against those officials. Red tags
on 13 states with lawsuits seeking recognition of same-sex marriage
are matched by seven green tags noting the firm's attempts to
An orange tag marks
the brief Liberty Counsel filed with the Supreme Court of California,
and a lone gold dot marks a victory for their cause: the striking
down of a same-sex marriage lawsuit by the Superior Court of West
"Until we started
the tracking map, it took forever just to figure out where we
had court cases," said Rena M. Lindevaldsen, the firm's lead
lawyer on this issue. "It has been an exhausting few months
since the marriages began in February."
dismisses the links advocates of same-sex marriage have drawn
to the civil rights movement. "Homosexuality is a choice
that people make," she said, "while race is something
you cannot change."
On the strength of
donations, Mr. Staver said, his firm plans to expand activities
in the coming months. The number of lawyers will double to 10
this summer, and Mr. Staver says he will oversee the opening of
a law school intended to train a new generation of like-minded
While Mr. Staver
said it was faith that prompted him to found the firm in 1989,
same-sex marriage was not the prime issue then. Instead, he said,
his intentions were primarily to fight for "religious freedoms."
In practice, this
has meant representing clients ranging from student evangelists
prevented from posting flyers in public schools to public officials
fighting to display the Ten Commandments in government offices.
In addition to using
the courts, Mr. Staver addresses legal issues through regular
radio and television programs and in a dozen books he has written,
the latest of which, "Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household
at Risk," will be published in September.
But Mr. Staver's
most prominent moment probably occurred when he argued before
the United States Supreme Court in 1994, against a Florida judge's
order that limited picketing outside an abortion clinic.
In that case, Madsen
v. Women's Health Center, the court upheld a 36-foot buffer zone
that kept protesters away from the entrance, but struck down a
300-foot zone inside which the protesters could not make unsolicited
approaches to clinic patients.
All cases are handled
pro bono, with the law firm's finances mainly coming from donations
and court-awarded fees in successful lawsuits.
Registered as a nonprofit
group, Liberty Counsel had revenue of $1,374,658 in 2002, a big
increase from $163,341 in 1997, according to tax records provided
by GuideStar, a philanthropic research group.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell,
whose Liberty University has been represented by Mr. Staver, is
a major supporter. Since joining the university's board last year,
Mr. Staver has been in charge of the steering committee seeking
to establish the Liberty Law School. Although not yet accredited
by the American Bar Association, the school will begin teaching
several dozen full-scholarship students this fall.
"The law school
will teach the biblical worldview, but also instruct on practical
lawyering," Mr. Staver said. "We will train the next
generation of lawyers to protect religious freedoms through the
Mr. Staver and Ms.
Lindevaldsen said that while they disapproved of homosexuality,
they were compassionate, and they distinguished themselves from
those who "spread hate" against gay people.
homosexuality are both against God's will," Mr. Staver said.
"Such sinners must be helped."