Famed attorney talks LGBT rights
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 06:02
Yesterday evening at the West Virginia University College of Law, famed Supreme Court Attorney Paul M. Smith spoke about his experiences with LGBT law in the United States.
Smith is most known for fighting against and helping overturn prior law in the landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas – the case that made same-sex relationships and sexual activity legal in every state and territory in the United States.
The event was organized by OUTlaw, a WVU organization that promotes open networking and communication between gay and straight communities and educates others on gay rights issues.
During the lecture, "Gay Rights in the Supreme Court from Lawrence to Perry," Smith explained how LGBT equality has changed during the past 26 years and what changes he hopes to see in the near future.
"I think students already understand this issue. They, in their bones, believe there should be equality," he said. "The reason why the movement is going to succeed is precisely because of the younger generation."
Because it is still legal to discriminate LGBT individuals when it comes to housing and employment in many places – including West Virginia, – Smith said you can lose your job, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
"Just because your boss found out you were gay, you can lose your job as well as be excluded from an apartment," he said.
"So, one of the big things that has to happen regardless of what the Supreme Court does, it has to face the federal statute, which is a federal law that states, ‘you can’t discriminate in employment and housing against people just because they are gay.’"
Smith said this battle isn’t a new one.
"This is what so many people have been trying to do for 12-15 years; it just hasn’t got through yet. It has to go through Congress," he said.
As far as same sex marriage goes, Smith said the Supreme Court may make a new law regional, covering the US state-by-state, but he feels it will eventually cover the whole country.
"The cases this year are based on the case 10 years ago, the Lawrence vs. Texas case, which was the foundation case that established all the arguments that are being made now," he said.
Stephen Skinner, West Virginia House of Delegates 67th District and founder of Fairness West Virginia, also spoke briefly during the lecture.
"We have come a long away in a very short amount of time," he said. "You understand, when I graduated from Law School in 1994, I think there was one openly gay student. There was no organization like OUTlaw. Although it may seem like a very long time ago, in the scheme of things, it wasn’t," he said.
Skinner explains how and why he became the founder of Fairness West Virginia, which is a civil rights organization dedicated to LGBT rights.
"I was living in New York, and when I moved back to West Virginia, there was no organization fighting for gay rights on a state level – no lobbying here," he said. "You can only complain about things so much before you have to get up and just do it, so I did it."
Skinner also described his experiences being the state’s first openly gay member of the legislature.
"To be in Charleston, I think you have to remember, it’s just like being openly gay anywhere else: it doesn’t matter most of the time," he said. "So I bring my partner to events, and obviously I bring a new perspective to the table."
He said being openly gay was a personal choice.
"When we’re talking about real-estate laws in the judiciary committee or gun rights, it doesn’t matter," he said. "However, as we take up gay rights legislation, I think it will be important. I’ll be able to have a level of trust with my colleagues; that’s the point in being out."
For more information about Paul M. Smith, visit jenner.com/people/PaulSmith, and for more information about Fairness West Virginia, visit www.fairnesswv.org.