Lavender Law Conference to Address Landmark SCOTUS Decisions - Higher Education

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Lavender Law Conference to Address Landmark SCOTUS Decisions


by Lois Elfman


D’Arcy Kemnitz

National LGBT Bar Association Executive Director D’Arcy Kemnitz asks, “How do you teach when the textbook in front of you is dated throughout the course of the semester?”

The upcoming conference of the National LGBT Bar Association will give academics a chance to discuss how the Supreme Court’s repeal of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act will impact what’s taught in the classroom.

“We used to like to say that marriage represented more than 1,000 rights and responsibilities. Now it’s going to mean more than 1,000 changes in the law,” says D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Bar Association, which will hold its 25th anniversary Lavender Law Conference & Career Fair in San Francisco, August 22-24.

The conference draws practitioners, corporate counsel, academics, law students and members of the judiciary. For those teaching the law, there will be discussions about how to reflect recent landmark Supreme Court decisions in their courses.

“How do you teach when the textbook in front of you is dated throughout the course of the semester?” says Kemnitz.

Patricia Cain, professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law and a national expert in federal tax law and sexuality and the law, says the interaction with practitioners at the conference helps inform what she brings to the classroom.

“It’s a chance for those of us in the academy to learn what people are saying the real world problems are, the practical problems,” says Cain. “That gives us an experience and a point of view that we don’t experience in our ivory towers so much. I can think academically about the legal arguments on both sides of an issue, but then somebody is going to tell me, ‘I had somebody who actually came into my office and this is the real life problem that’s going on.’

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“Lavender Law really is a unique opportunity for academics who are interested in these topics to learn what is cutting edge from the practitioners … and lawyers in public interest law firms,” she adds.

At press time, Cain was investigating how the IRS will address same-sex marriages in terms of the filing of federal income tax returns and how that may vary when a married couple resides in a state where same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. These are issues she will raise in tax law classes. Professors of constitutional law and family law will also be facing challenges that will be both frustrating and exhilarating in terms of asking their students to explore the legal analysis.

An emerging issue in family law is divorce for same-sex married couples who don’t reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. An issue in immigration law is, now that it is possible for a U.S. citizen to file an immigration petition for a same-sex spouse, there are issues related to couples who married and resided abroad but now may wish to live in the U.S. Legal decisions will unfold in the months and years ahead.

The conference also provides an opportunity for people to present outlines of scholarly papers and have them critiqued by others in the academy.

The conference will include a panel discussion titled Teaching Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and the Law, intended for individuals who teach, have taught or will teach sexual orientation/gender identity courses. Among the panelists will be Arthur S. Leonard, professor of law at New York Law School and founder/editor of Lesbian/Gay Law Notes, which has been examining LGBT issues in the law since the early 1980s.

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“We’ll talk about the merits of going with the case book as opposed to putting together readings and things of that sort,” says Leonard.

Leonard raises an issue that law school professors face, which is that specialized electives, such as those focusing on sexual orientation and gender identity, are somewhat endangered by recent trends in legal education.

“Those of us who are interested in LGBT issues have to push very hard to make sure that our issues are addressed in other courses,” he says.

In addition to sexual orientation and the law, Leonard teaches contracts, employment law, employment discrimination law and torts. He says he carefully reviews new textbooks on those subjects and calls out authors who fail to include sexual orientation.

“It’s not just teaching the course, but proselytizing for the inclusion of the subject matter in other relevant courses,” Leonard says. “I’m always pushing my colleagues in other courses. When new stuff comes up that I think might be of interest for a particular course, I’ll send it to the colleagues who teach that course. They’re usually receptive.”

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