As reported in many blogs in August 2008, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) came under intense pressure to move its annual convention, scheduled to start January 6, 2009, away from a hotel owned by a contributor to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign in California. Proposition 8 sought to amend the California Constitution to recognize only the traditional definition of marriage (one man, one woman, no exceptions). Proposition 8 was a reaction to a split decision of the California Supreme Court that held gay marriage was a right protected by the California Constitution.
The National Law Journal reported on the boycott as follows:
“Organizations representing thousands of legal educators say they will boycott the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting in January if it is held at a San Diego hotel owned by a foe of same-sex marriage. The groups made up of law professors and legal writing professionals have sent letters to the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), calling for it to move the site chosen for the conference in January. The groups object to holding the annual meeting at the San Diego Manchester Grand Hyatt, a hotel whose owner, Douglas Manchester, has donated $125,000 to an initiative to outlaw same-sex marriage in California. The groups say that to attend the five-day event hosted primarily at the Manchester Grand Hyatt would conflict with their policies of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation.”
AALS is “a scholarly association that is supposed to be diverse in viewpoint and respectful of free speech. If the AALS leadership caves to the boycott threat, however, it will have punished the owner of the hotel for having exercised his constitutional free speech rights, while at the same time telling those of us in the AALS who disagree with the position taken by AALS Section on Legal Writing research and Reasoning, and the AALS Section on Teaching that our views are, at best, unimportant and, at worst, illegitimate.”
The AALS responded to the boycott threat with a Solomonic solution, continue to honor the contract to hold the convention at the Grand Hyatt, but encourage attendees to stay elsewhere and hold all events at the neighboring Marriott:
“Our contracts with the hotels provide that each hotel reserve a block of guest rooms, and leave to the AALS the choice of where to locate the AALS Registration, Exhibit Hall, Section Programs, Presidential Programs, and House of Representatives meetings. We will honor our contracts with both hotels, and we have exercised our option to hold all AALS events at the Marriott to ensure the maximum participation by our members.”
Apparently the Marriott is owned by the same person, so AALS appears to have accomplished nothing by this futile gesture. The futility of this suppression of free expression is particularly ironic, but raises some interesting questions.
If law professors are going to boycott supporters of preserving the traditional definition of marriage, will the law professors who urged the boycott of the Hyatt hotel also boycott Barack Obama’s inauguration, which reportedly will have 1 million people in attendance? After all, while Barack Obama opposed California Proposition 8, Obama supports the traditional definition of marriage and aligned himself with numerous black ministers and others in the black community who oppose gay marriage.
Indeed, if recent exit polls are correct, it was the black community in California that was responsible for the passage of Proposition 8. Blacks voted for Proposition 8 in much higher percentages than other groups, and virtually all blacks voted for Obama. The conclusion is inescapable that black supporters of Obama were the determining factor in denying gays the right to marry in our largest state, California.
So will law professors stick to their principles? Will the law professors who want to boycott the San Diego Hyatt also boycott Obama’s inauguration, rather than celebrate the election of a President who supports the traditional definition of marriage? Will the law professors party alongside members of the black community who overwhelmingly and decisively voted against gay marriage? Or will the law professors recognize that in a free society people are permitted to differ, and that the proper reaction to speech that offends you is more — not less — speech?