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Students Play Key Role in Historic Proposition 8 Marriage Case; Le Coney '10 Shares Thoughts on Experience

A federal judge’s ruling on same-sex couples' right to marry in early August was welcome news to Yale Law School students intimately involved in the case. On August 4, Judge Vaughn Walker declared that California’s Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in California, violated the federal constitution.

The students had worked on the case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, as part of their participation in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) working with the San Francisco City Attorney's Office. San Francisco was the only organization allowed to intervene in the trial on the Plaintiffs’ side, and it argued that Proposition 8 presents a financial burden to the City of San Francisco, other California cities and counties, and the State of California. But that was not the only issue SFALP students dealt with, and at the end of the day, says SFALP fellow Kaitlin Ainsworth ’10, all the students’ efforts were important in the case.

“The impact that marriage has on city and state coffers seems to have gone into Judge Walker’s analysis of whether California has a valid, rational reason to distinguish between same-sex and opposite-sex couples,” said Ainsworth, “but it is was far from the only factor in his analysis. Many of the other elements that SFALP students worked on—like their investigation of expert witnesses from both sides and their study of laws in other states regarding LGBT rights—made their way into this decision as well.”

SFALP co-founder and faculty advisor Heather Gerken, the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law, added, “The students did an incredible amount of work on the case and often worked under intense timelines. But they were thrilled to do it. After all, how many law students get a chance to work on a case like this? Some people are calling it ‘the trial of the century.’ At the very least, this case seems destined for the history books, and I’m proud that our students were part of it.”

Eight Yale law students worked on the trial during the fall semester, among them Kaitlin Ainsworth ’10, Christopher Le Coney ’10, Eric Fish ’11, Theresa Lee ’11, Gabriela Rivera ’11, and Adam Yoffie ’11. Several remained for the spring semester as the trial was wrapping up; they helped the attorneys get ready for closing arguments and prepare for what will likely be a lengthy appeals process.

Chris Le Coney, one of those who stayed on, shared his reflections on what SFALP students agree was an amazing experience, and a highlight of their time at Yale. 

The San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project is funded by The Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School.