The Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to Prop. 8 on March 26 and a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act a day later. Decisions are expected in both cases by late June.

Prior to the Supreme Court arguments, a California law firm sought bar associations from across the country to sign an amicus brief against Prop 8, especially those from states where same-sex marriage is banned by a state constitutional amendment. GAWL’s board voted on the amicus brief in February. For GAWL to sign the brief, 15 of its 23 board members needed to vote in favor. Only one-third of the board agreed, according to immediate past president Lindsay Verity who was at the meeting.

Verity, a lesbian who joined GAWL in 2004, said she resigned from the bar association over the issue because the members didn’t understand the amicus brief was not a political issue but rather one of civil rights.

“It felt like a slap in the face. They didn’t recognize it was a big deal. This is my life,” Verity said in an interview.

In the April 10 letter to the GAWL board, the 56 women stated GAWL’s board decision was “deeply regrettable” and that the board failed to “stand up for equality for all GAWL members.”

“The Board’s failure to support equality for all of its members, and, furthermore, its failure to issue a statement explaining its decision, left many of us questioning our desire to be involved with a group that does not share our values,” the letter stated. 

The board of GAWL responded April 15 with a letter to its membership stating that not signing onto the amicus brief “should not be interpreted in any way to reflect a view in opposition to the goals and objectives of the parties who filed the amicus brief.”

The board also stated it is committed to drafting a non-discrimination policy and will review its policy surrounding amicus briefs.

Verity said she believes GAWL hesitated to vote in favor of the amicus brief because its board was afraid of losing members and also feared how judges may perceive them on the controversial issue of same-sex marriage.

The Atlanta Bar Association’s board voted unanimously to sign onto the amicus brief.

GAWL was founded 80 years ago and has more than 1,000 members across the state.

The letter of protest in its entirety:

TO: BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR THE
GEORGIA ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN LAWYERS
FROM: GAWL PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE AND
GAWL FEMINIST AFFINITY GROUP
DATE: April 10, 2013
RE: STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO BOARD OF DIRECTORS’ VOTE AGAINST SIGNING THE AMICUS BRIEF SUBMITTED ON BEHALF OF BAY AREA LAWYERS IN HOLLINGSWORTH V. PERRY.

The members of the Public Affairs Committee (the “Committee”) and the Feminist Affinity Group have prepared the following joint statement in response to the vote held at the February 14, 2013 Board Meeting to reject the Committee’s recommendation that GAWL join the amicus brief prepared by Munger Tolles & Olson LLP which was submitted on behalf of the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedoms, et al. in support of the Respondents in Hollingsworth v. Perry (the “Amicus Brief”):

We are disappointed not only by the ultimate outcome – the Board’s vote against joining the Amicus Brief and failure to stand up for equality for all GAWL members– but also by the process employed by the Board. First, the Board should consider revising its Amicus Brief Policy to: (a) clarify the criteria that must be satisfied for the Board to vote in favor of joining an amicus brief; and (b) require that the Board employ the assistance of a neutral moderator to guide the Board’s discussion prior to the vote. In particular, we believe that employing a neutral moderator would encourage open discussion while ensuring that adequate time is reserved for consideration of the legal issues raised in the brief and whether it is within GAWL’s interest and mission to support the legal arguments advanced in the particular amicus brief.

Second, we are disappointed to learn that the legal issues presented in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case repeatedly were framed by some Board members solely as political issues, rather than legal issues regarding civil rights. Consequently, the Board did not consider the merits of the legal questions at issue in Hollingsworth v. Perry, and the discussion focused almost exclusively on whether joining the brief – and thereby taking a stance on what some members view as a political rather than civil rights issue – would alienate members and ultimately result in some members resigning from GAWL because they either personally did not agree with joining the brief or believed that GAWL should not be involved in political decisions. Once again, we believe that having a clearer Amicus Brief Policy and employing a neutral moderator would have assisted and guided the Board in its consideration of the relevant legal issues.

Finally, inaction is action. The Board’s failure to support equality for all of its members, and, furthermore, its failure to issue a statement explaining its decision, left many of us questioning our desire to be involved in a group that does not share our values. Most of us do not want to leave GAWL, but we need the Board to understand that its decision is deeply regrettable.

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