Ted Olson’s Other Unlikely Partner: Wife Lady Booth Olson
Much has been made of the fact that a former U.S. Solicitor General under George W. Bush--and the very man who represented Bush before the Supreme Court in the 2000 election battle--teamed up with a liberal counterpart, David Boies (the same man Olson opposed in Bush v. Gore) in defending the rights of gay and lesbian families. The two onetime adversaries united to mount a formidable challenge to Proposition 8 in a suit that recently resulted in a verdict that the anti-gay ballot initiative is unconstitutional.
But Ted Olson has another unlikely partner in his life: longtime Democrat Lady Booth Olson, his wife. ("Lady" is Booth Olson’s first name, not a title; it was given her in memory of a great-aunt, and is not an uncommon name in the South, from which Booth Olson hails.)
The New York Times ran a profile on the couple on Aug. 18. The profile recounted how the two met through friends, and how Booth Olson, a lawyer who had preserved the audio-only broadcast from C-SPAN of Olson defending Bush before the Supreme Court in 2000, was skeptical. Booth Olson told the New York Times that she listened to the tapes she’d made once more, "and I remembered, ’Oh my God, he was Bush, not Gore,’ so I called her back and said, ’This is not going to work.’ "
However, the man she met in person won her over and the two eventually married. Olson had previously been married to conservative commentator Barbara Olson, who was killed during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But while his new wife has "certainly influenced my views [with] her ideas, her approach, her feelings," Olson was less converted to the cause of equality by Booth Olson than supported by her as he undertook the suit that challenged the constitutionality of rescinding legal rights for minorities at the ballot box. As Lady Booth Olson put it, the issue was not about political left versus political right, but rather a matter "of right and wrong, justice and injustice, and discrimination is something that offends at any time."
Of the influx of mail that her husband has received from grateful GLBTs, Booth Olson said, "They’re incredibly moving from people who have experienced discrimination. There are so many, it’s hard to keep track of them. But I’m trying to document them, hearing their stories and their reasons for wanting to marry." Booth Olson has made it her project to read and answer those letters, and may prepare a book culled from the letters, the article said.
Though Booth Olson says she cannot take credit for her husband’s defense of the rights of gay and lesbian families--"In my innermost thoughts, I like to think he thought that on some level, but Ted’s never said that.... He owns his own decisions," she told the publication--she did speak to her own feelings as she watched the 11-day trial last year as her husband and David Boies argued their case before Judge Vaughn Walker.
"During the trial, I kept looking down at my wedding ring and thinking, ’Gosh, I am so lucky to be here,’ " the article recounted her as saying. "I waited until 45 to get married, taking it for granted the entire time."
In a Jan. 9 op-ed piece published by Newsweek, Olson outlined his reasons for taking the case. "Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage," he wrote. "This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize.
"Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation," continued Olson. "At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities.
"Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society," Olson noted. "The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it."
Another example of Olson’s thinking that comes straight from the headlines of the day concerns the controversy around the proposed establishment of a Muslim community center that would be situated near "Ground Zero," the location of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York City. The community center--dubbed the "Ground Zero mosque" in the mainstream press because it would include a prayer room--has generated heated debate between those who oppose the project, and those who defend it on the grounds of religious freedom.
President Obama has offered words of support for the community center, declaring, "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," the Associated Press reported on Aug. 14. "That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," he said. "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."
Olson echoed those sentiments in an appearance on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC news program, reported Mediaite on Aug. 18.
"It may not make me popular with some people," Olson told Mitchell, "but I think the president was probably right about this. I believe people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures or places of religious worship or study where the community allows them to do it under zoning laws and that sort of thing. And that we don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith.
"I don’t think it should be a political issue. I don’t think it should be a Republican or Democratic issue," added Olson.