Douglas Hallward-Driemeier always knew he wanted to be a lawyer, but the journey from the classroom to the Supreme Court was not an easy one.
Hallward-Driemeier has gone before the Supreme Court 16 times, and his case on marriage equality has been the pinnacle of his success. Hallward-Driemeier returned to DePauw Monday evening as part of this year’s Ubben Lecture series. He discussed the influence his family, DePauw and his own marriage have had in helping him become part of this case and the way these factors influenced his arguments.
On June 26, 2015, same sex couples were officially recognized in the constitution for equal marital rights as opposite sex couples. He referred to that day as not just the highlight of his professional career, but one he holds to be as personally important to him as his own wedding and the birth of his children.
"Now as I sat in the court room waiting for my turn to argue in the supreme court there came a moment where I felt how physically tense I was," Hallward-Driemeier said about his experience in front of the Supreme Court defending this historic argument. "I thought of the hundreds of thousands of people whose happiness was riding on this case and I felt the burden of their hopes. Then I realized it was not their burdens that were holding me down but the hopes that were lifting me up."
Hallward-Driemeier’s involvement with the Obergefell case started in his hometown of St. Louis. There he was raised in a home that taught him to respect all people and this value instilled on him by his parents would later help him feel comfortable advocating for progressive change in America. In just third grade, Hallward-Driemeier stood against discrimination for the first time. As a homework assignment he wrote about his best friend moving away because his school district was joining with other districts that included students of color. Through his young words, he expressed how the reason why his best friend moved away made him sad. His teacher made him read it out loud to his class, not imagining that years later he would be in front the Supreme Court, standing up against discrimination yet again.
The tools he used to reach the day that a law passed so that same sex couples could marry started during his college years here at DePauw University. Even though his time at DePauw did not influence his views on LGBT issues in any direct way, DePauw contributed by shaping his ideas and views of marriage. When Hallward-Driemeier decided to marry his wife Mary, they made a point to be “partners in life”--a term they saw to be applicable to all life partnership and hyphenated their last names to signify their equality.
Hallward-Driemeier also pointed out how much his Liberal Arts Education helped him appreciate the call for justice and to develop his argument in a way that justices would find compelling.
After the lecture, Raj Bellani said “One thing I walked away thinking was how wonderful it is to see the liberal arts education in action and to see how he’s taken what he’s learned in the past and made it new and different.”
Hallward-Driemeier explained, “I think that the real virtue of the liberal arts education is the way that it opens your mind and helps you to learn to react to new ideas and to new situations. I would never have thought when I graduated that would have some critical role in the fight for greater respect and dignity for the LGBT individuals.”
Professor Robert Calvert, Hallward-Driemeier’s academic advisor at DePauw expressed that, “In my view the destination of his journey to the Supreme Court was indeed in part an extension of his life as a student at DePauw.”
DePauw was also where he met Chris Stoll who became his best friend, best man and fellow Rhodes scholar. Most importantly to his career, Stoll was the person who got Hallward-Driemeier involved in the Obergefell case.
Stopped at a red light, Hallward-Driemeier received an email from Stoll asking him what he was doing for the next week. Stoll wanted to work with Hallward-Driemeier to file a petition within one week in order to have it considered in the soonest term, and that night they started working on the case.
The court granted cert and set two issues for review. The first was the whether couples who were not married and wanted marriage licenses were entitled to get them on the same term as opposite sex couples.
Hallward-Driemeier was representing the second question; were the marriage licenses of the already married plaintiffs valid across all states. This case was centered mainly on a couple that had been married in another state and moved to Tennessee. When they moved to Tennessee their marriage ceased to exist. The Obergefell side argued that the plaintiff's marriages were no less fundamental to their lives as marriages are to opposite sex couples or even to the justices and their selves. Hallward-Driemeier and his team were arguing that the state could not without a good reason refuse to recognize the couple when they were already married
The Supreme Court delivered the opinion on June 26, 2015. Monday, Hallward-Driemeier read a part of provided the Obergefell’s answer against the argument that same sex couples were disrespecting the idea of marriage and therefore they shouldn’t marry.
Chief Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion and in part he said, “Their plea [for marriage equality] is that they do respect [marriage], respect it so deeply that they seek to define its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be excluded from one of civilizations oldest institutions, they ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law, the constitution grants them that right.”
Hallward-Driemeier described this day during his lecture and expressed the emotion of being present in the courtroom on this monumentally historical day for The United States of America.
“Being in the courtroom that day was, apart from my own marriage and the birth of my children, the most emotional moment of my life,” Hallward-Driemeier said. “There was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom, there was just this sense of awe that we were there in this moment in history and that perhaps future generations would be spared all the pain of past generations”
At the end of Hallward-Driemeier’s lecture he opened the conversation for faculty and students to ask questions. Senior Grace Quinn asked what his response would be to people like Kim Davis who disagree with the law and choose to disobey it, and the effect that that can have on the system. For a moment, Hallward-Driemeier let his passion speak and expressed his commitment to this case and the place of constitutional law and personal beliefs when it comes to government employees.
"When Kim Davis questioned the legal validity of marriage licenses issued in her county because she won't personally authorize same sex couples to marry, Kim Davis has overstated her place in the moral universe under our constitutional rights.”