Douglas Hallward-Driemeier '89
DePauw University "did, to a considerable degree, expose me to the ideas that later shaped my views about marriage and, ultimately, helped me to argue the case for marriage equality earlier this year," Douglas Hallward-Driemeier told an audience at his alma mater tonight. A 1989 graduate of DePauw, Hallward-Driemeier's arguments helped persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage on June 26, four months to the day before he returned to campus to deliver a Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture.
"How does a straight, white, churchgoing male from the relatively conservative part of the Midwest come to argue one of the biggest civil rights cases of our generation?," asked Hallward-Driemeier, who received two standing ovations. In a speech titled "The Power of Ideas: The Journey from East College to the Supreme Court," he told the audience in Kresge Auditorium of his upbringing in St. Louis, and of how glimpses of discrimination witnessed early in his life and his experiences at DePauw and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University have informed his career as a civil rights attorney who has presented more than 50 appellate arguments, including 16 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hallward-Driemeier, managing partner of Ropes & Gray's Washington, D.C. office, was brought into the landmark same-sex marriage case by an old friend from DePauw, Chris Stoll '91, senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who reached out to him on November 7 of last year, a day after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed district court rulings that had struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
"I remember I was driving home and stopped at a red light and read his email, which said, 'What are you doing for the next week?' They had decided that they wanted to go to the Supreme Court and they wanted to go immediately. And in order to have the Court decide the case this past term we had to file a petition in one week's time. This is something that usually takes 90 days or more. But in one week we filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to take review of the case and to affirm the equal rights of same-sex couples to marry."
Looking out over the students, faculty, staff, alumni and others seated before him in Kresge Auditorium, Hallward-Driemeier outlined, "Our argument, in some ways, boiled down to this: that the plaintiffs' couples relationships ... their existing marriages were no less fundamental to them and to their lives than the marriages of opposite-sex couples like me and my wife, or even the justices and their spouses."
Hallward-Driemeier argued the same-sex marriage case before the high court in April.
"As I sat in the courtroom waiting for my time to argue in the Supreme Court there came a moment when I felt how physically tense I was," he recollected. "And I thought of the hundreds of thousands of people whose happiness rided on this case; I felt the burden of their hopes."
He added, "I sat there for a few minutes reflecting on this and concluded in the end that it was not their burdens that were holding me down, but their hopes that we lifting me up. That together we could achieve this great accomplishment."
On June 26 the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that states cannot keep gay couples from marrying and must recognize their union.
"Being in the courtroom that day when Justice Kennedy announced his opinion from the bench was, apart from my own marriage and the birth of my children, the most emotional moment of my life. 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."
Hallward-Driemeier stated, "There's no question that being involved in this case is the highlight of my professional career," and described how lessons learned on the DePauw campus informed the successful arguments he made before the high court and how they've also shaped his life.
Robert E. Calvert, professor emeritus of political science, was Doug Hallward-Driemeier's faculty adviser and introduced his former student at tonight's event. Hallward-Driemeier, who was a political science major and Honor Scholar at DePauw, pointed to a seminar led by Dr. Calvert and the book they discussed, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, which was authored by a group of sociologists including Robert N. Bellah.
Hallward-Driemeier recalls the text concluding that "community and traditions are essential to our ability to lead a meaningful life. Tradition creates roles that we can inhabit and that give meaning to our interactions. The roles of husband and wife, for examples, are defined by the myriad of responsibilities owed by each to the other. These roles are much more rich precisely because they've been handed down to us through generations than anything we could hope to create out of whole cloth ourselves during our own lifetimes."
The attorney said that the book made a strong point that tradition for its own sake is not enough. "We must discern what is good and essential in these traditions and adapt them to our new understandings ... The critical reappropriation of tradition meant that we didn't have to throw the baby out with the bath water; the challenge was to preserve what was good and meaningful in our cultural institutions and heritage without being beholden to their blind spots."
He added, "In many respects, constitutional argument, especially in the realm of civil rights, is that same project of critical reappropriation of tradition that we had discussed back in Dr. Calvert's class."
Hallward-Driemeier also pointed to the service work of the chaplain's office at DePauw, and the influence of late philosophy and religion professors Russell Compton and Robert Eccles. "They were always eager to talk about the latest book or engage in discussion about raising provocative, unsettling questions on issues of the day." Those talks "confirmed to me not only that religious faith was consistent with asking hard questions, but that sometimes religion demanded it, upending what we thought we knew and challenging us to do better." (at left: Doug Driemeier as a DePauw senior)
The Supreme Court advocate recalled another Honors Scholar seminar taught by Rod Clifford, in which he discussed his opposition to marriage "because he had never known a marriage founded on equality between the spouses. At least not, he added, any heterosexual marriage."
Clifford's challenge "stayed with me," the speaker noted. When the 1989 DePauw graduate married Mary Hallward, they decided to combine their last names.
"At that time, 20 years ago, it was relatively unprecedented for a man to hyphenate his name, and many acquaintances characterized that act as a radical step. But I responded that it was born of a very traditional impulse: the desire to share a family name, but informed by the need to honor the equality of both spouses within marriage. And when each of our children was born I took three months unpaid leave from work to make clear that raising our children was a shared responsibility."
Hallward-Driemeier earned a master's of philosophy in politics at Oxford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He rejoined Ropes & Gray in 2010 after spending more than a decade handling civil appeals and Supreme Court litigation for the U.S. Department of Justice. Between 2004 and 2009, he was an Assistant to the Solicitor General, where he briefed and argued cases on behalf of the United States before the Supreme Court.
His day at DePauw included visiting an Honor Scholars class, holding a session with student reporters, and joining in a reception and dinner at The Elms before his Ubben Lecture. A number of Hallward-Driemeier's relatives and friends came to campus, including his father, Donald Driemeier, a 1960 graduate of DePauw, seen in the photo at left.
"LGBT people, their talents and their love (are) as noble and deserving of respect as any other persons. He added that "the institution of marriage might actually have something to learn from same-sex couples who enter it from positions of genuine equality."
The recipient of DePauw's 1989 Walker Cup, Hallward-Driemeier urged his classmates at their graduation "to be idealists, rather than realists," he recalled. "That they should refuse to accept our society as it is, but instead challenge it to achieve its lofty promise. I had no clue at that time that I would be so lucky as to be part of an historic case that would establish equal dignity in the law for LGBT individuals and their relationships. But because of those ideas that I had learned here my heart and mind were open to that possibility."
He concluded, "My hope for you is you, too, will be open to a similar call."