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June 30, 2009 2:42 PM

Fried Frank Hosts Gay Marriage Panel Discussion

Posted by Rachel Breitman

While the New York State Senate's stalemate over majority control has prevented a gay marriage bill from coming to a vote, if the crowd at a law firm event on Monday night is any indication, New York lawyers remain enthusiastic about the future of same sex marriage rights.

About 80 young attorneys and students attended a panel discussion on same sex marriage laws organized by Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. The annual gay pride week event, now in its ninth year, is dedicated to the memory of Michael Diehl, a second-year associate at Fried Frank who died in an accident in 1999.

New York state assembly members Daniel O'Donnell and Deborah Glick, who helped pass same sex marriage bills in 2007 and 2009, addressed the issue and provided information on how people can get involved in and support same sex marriage rights. (State senator Tom Duane originally was slated to attend but remained in Albany awaiting a court-mandated special session of the state senate.) Both speakers said they were optimistic about the future and believe lawyers likely will play a decisive role in gay rights.

"At this point, lawyers are fighting for marriage equality on a state-by-state basis, but the bigger fight will be a national one," Glick said. She is the first openly gay elected official in New York state. "We will also be harnessing the work of young lawyers to help with issues like the military's 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy."

The law students in attendance expressed the hope that law firms will provide them with opportunities to play a part in future gay rights-related litigation.

"It's like being a civil rights activist during Rosa Parks's era," says Clement Lee, a rising 2L at Benjamin N. Cardozo law school, who attended the event.

In previous years, forums were held at Fried Frank's lower Manhattan office and were open for firm lawyers. This year, the organizers decided to extend an invitation to the event to law students and lawyers from other New York firms.

"We mentioned it to other firms and sent it to groups at all the local law schools," says Patrick Murphy, a first-year associate at Fried Frank and cochair of the firm's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender affinity group. "We hope that events like this help set us out as a LGBT-friendly firm."

The firm says that by expanding the invite list, it hopes to raise awareness of civil rights issues among young lawyers. 

"We hoped that a forum on social justice that coincided with gay pride week and the start of summer associate season would encourage new lawyers to get involved in work that benefits their community," says Robert Edwards, director of legal recruitment at Fried Frank.

Fried Frank wasn't the only firm commemorating gay pride month. Clifford Chance is hosting an art exhibition showcasing historical photographs from the gay rights movement in its New York office; the firm's London office will exhibit artwork by seven gay and lesbian artists. Last week Morrison & Foerster hosted a seminar on building LGBT-inclusive workplaces.

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