Back in June, the American Political Science Association entertained—and then rejected—a proposal by some of its gay and lesbian members to change the locale of its 2012 annual meeting, on the ground that the currently scheduled site, the city of New Orleans, is located in a state, Louisiana, that has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. As I argued at the time in the Wall Street Journal, there was something a tad ludicrous about protesting alleged discrimination against gays by boycotting one of the most gay-friendly cities in America. But at least the gay-rights activists among the professors of political science had an argument to make: that an association member who had legally entered into same-sex wedlock in, say, California (the only state in the union besides Massachusetts that issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples), could conceivably be denied the same hospital visitation and decision-making privileges as a spouse of the opposite sex should his or her partner encounter a medical emergency while at the five-day meeting. (The organization’s board decided that risk was too slight to justify moving the meeting.)
Now, gay-rights activists in the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) are proposing their own protest boycott of an annual meeting site, but this time it’s hard to figure out what the claim of discrimination is supposed to be. The meeting in question is scheduled to take place on January 6-10 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel in San Diego. The aim of the announced boycott, urged by two sections of the 160-school association and two outside groups, is to persuade the AALS to cancel its contracts with the Manchester Grand Hyatt and move the meeting to another hotel. No one is claiming that the hotel either has treated or plans to treat gay individuals or couples any differently from heterosexuals.
The hotel’s owner, Douglas F. Manchester, however, has donated $125,000 to back a proposed amendment to the California constitution, on the ballot for the November election, that would ban same-sex marriage in California and effectively overturn a state Supreme Court ruling in May that deemed such marriages legal under the current state constitution. Manchester has made it clear in public statements that his hotel has numerous gay employees whom it values and has no intention of refusing to hire or accommodate anyone on the basis of sexual orientation. Manchester, a practicing Catholic, believes that same-sex marriage represents an attack on the traditional concept of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Nonetheless, Louis Sirico, chairman of the AALS’s Section on Legal Writing, Research, and Reasoning, one of the four groups (totaling about 2,000 AALS members) promoting the boycott, argues that Manchester’s campaign contribution constituted “discrimination,” as he told the National Law Journal.
One might point out that the planned boycott involves discrimination, all right: discrimination against Manchester on the basis of his political and religious views. What Sirico’s section seems to be saying—in conjunction with the AALS’s Section on Teaching Methods and the independent Legal Writing Institute and Society of American Law School Teachers—is that anyone who believes in the traditional definition of marriage (and that would be the vast majority of Americans)—is engaging in impermissible bias against gay people and deserves to have his or her viewpoint banished from the marketplace of legitimate ideas. The boycott campaign on the basis of an individual’s political donation to a lawful cause has, as might be imagined, generated a rich trove of Internet commentary by law professors (for a list of links, click here). Several of the blogging professors pointed out the obvious: that if opposition to gay marriage is now beyond the moral pale, the AALS ought to bar Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and members of other religious groups that object to same-sex wedlock) from membership in the organization. The bloggers also noted that several board members of the AALS teach at law schools that are either affiliated with Catholic universities or that accept large donations from political conservatives whose views may resemble Manchester’s. “I don’t see how the AALS can shun Manchester as beyond the pale while keeping Notre Dame and Brigham Young as members in good standing,” wrote George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin, a libertarian who personally believes that states ought to recognize same-sex marriage.
Boycotting a business that supports political views antithetical to one’s own is perfectly legal—although it is fascinating to watch the high moral dudgeon of liberals when, say, the Southern Baptist Convention urges churchgoers not to vacation at Walt Disney World because Disney provides benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. In 2007 the deans of about 100 law schools signed a letter denouncing as “contrary to the basic tenets of American law” a Pentagon official’s suggestion that U.S. companies boycott law firms representing detainees at Guantanamo.
What the opponents of the AALS boycott object to, they say, is the taking of controversial political positions by an organization that is supposed to promote the neutral goal of improved legal education. While the Society of American Law Teachers is overtly leftist, representing the self-described “progressive” wing of the law professoriate, the AALS and the Legal Writing Institute at least claim to be above the political fray. In an open letter to the organization’s executive director, Carl Monk, Stephen Bainbridge, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, wrote: “If the AALS caves to the critics, it will have allowed a vocal contingent to hijack a purportedly diverse organization for the ends of a particular point of view that may not be shared by all members of the organization. One can only imagine how the sponsors of the boycott would react if I and other like-minded faculty insisted that the AALS boycott a hotel chain that supported abortion by, say, donating money to NARAL.”
Some observers point out, however, that the proposed Manchester Grand Hyatt boycott seems to be par for the course for the AALS. University of Chicago legal philosopher Brad Leiter complained on his Leiter Report blog four years ago about the organization’s “relentless political correctness (without regard to the diversity of views among its members)” and its “largely politically motivated (when not cartel-motivated!)” regulation of law schools.” And sure enough, on Aug. 15 the AALS announced that while it won’t cancel the block of rooms for which it contracted with regard to the January 2009 meeting (such a move would probably expose the organization to hefty penalties), it will shift all its events and exhibitions to the meeting’s other host hotel, the San Diego Marriott. As University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds wrote on his Instapundit blog, “So remember — if you want lawprofs’ business, don’t utter a politically incorrect opinion. But don’t engage in similar boycotts of ‘progressive’ speakers. That would be McCarthyism.”