Last week, we mentioned that Winston & Strawn partner Gene Schaerr is leaving the firm to represent Utah in its gay marriage squabble against equal rights. By all accounts, Schaerr is a terrific lawyer. The BYU and Yale Law School grad served as head of Winston & Strawn’s Appellate and Critical Motions Practice.
It’s a little bit surprising that Schaerr took the extraordinary step of leaving the firm to take this case. The move caused some online commentators to speculate that Schaerr left W&S because of the firm’s work with LGBT groups… or even because W&S has an LGBT affinity group at the firm.
Well, we now have Schaerr’s actual departure memo, the one that he sent out firm-wide. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes suggested that Schaerr left the firm simply so he could “focus” on this important case. You can read the departure memo and judge Gene Schaerr’s motivations for yourselves…
Here’s the firm-wide memo that Gene Schaerr sent to Winston & Strawn personnel:
Okay. Some people’s God calls them to help the poor or feed the hungry or sue for peace. Other people’s God gets bent out of shape when loving gay or lesbian couples call themselves “married.” Whatever. Shalom.
Despite Schaerr’s beliefs, I don’t see any indication in this memo that he left in a huff over W&S refusing to burn gay and lesbian associates at the stake. People are (allegedly) called, by their faiths, to do all sorts of things.
But what about the other side of it? Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed notes that Paul Clement left King & Spalding when he became the face of DOMA defense litigation. Now Schaerr is leaving in advance of taking on this controversial case. Winston’s statement wishes Schaerr “all the best,” but it makes you wonder if bringing your Biblical beliefs about gays and lesbians into the workplace is now the kind of thing that is frowned upon in these establishments.
If so, it’d be a fairly big change in the American law firm and the American workplace. Remember, up until five minutes ago, gay people were the last people you were allowed to passively-aggressively insult via scripture at work. You can’t roll up to women at work and call them “unclean” for seven days. You can’t send out firm-wide emails wishing Jews a “Merry Christmas” and hoping that they accept Jesus Christ as the one true savior over the holidays. You certainly can’t walk up to a black person in your office and say “What’s up, Cain? How’s it hanging?” Really, it’s only with gay people where Bible-based inequality is still professionally respected as a difference of opinion.
But maybe that’s changing? Are Christian lawyers who believe in a fundamentalist approach feeling under siege at work? Is that a bad thing? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Schaerr Leaves Winston to Represent Utah in Marriage Case [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]
D.C. Attorney To Leave High-Powered Law Firm To Defend Utah’s Marriage Ban, State Attorney General Says [BuzzFeed]
Parties in Utah Marriage Case Beef up Legal Firepower [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]