Over 100 students, almost one third of the University of Michigan Law School's graduating class, walked out in protest over their speaker Senator Rob Portman's (R-OH) anti-gay record at their own commencement ceremony Saturday. Students were protesting the choice of Portman who has a substantial anti-gay voting history.
A graduate waves an American flag at the University of Michigan undergraduate commencement on April 30, 2011.
One of those graduates and protest organizer, Andrew Selbst explains his protest decision as being part of a larger American audience where there is no longer a place for discrimination of any group. Selbst relates the protest to the recent refusal by the Justice Department to defend DOMA.
On his blog, Selbst explains:
"The walkout was a statement to a broader audience - America. I think this whole episode fits within the thesis of Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter's recent New York Times Op-Ed about King & Spaulding's withdrawal from defending DOMA: The legal profession has simply moved past the point where LGBT rights are just another political issue, instead recognizing that discriminating against any group of people based on who they are is simply unacceptable in today's society. This walkout, like the Op-Ed, like the Justice Department's refusal to defend DOMA, is another data point for this observation. Here, even more specifically, we were saying that the for the next generation of lawyers, this is not even a debatable issue."Senator Portman is a 1984 University of Michigan Law School alum, which partly explains his choice as speaker. The Plain Dealer reports that as a member of congress, before he went on to join the Bush administration, Portman voted for a same-sex marriage ban and the Defense of Marriage Act. Although the 1999 ammendment failed, Portman voted to bar same-sex couples from adopting children in Washington, D.C. Jeff Sadosky, communications director for Portman released a statement to the Plain Dealer stating, "Rob beleives marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman."
Although the protestors certainly evoke a sense of pride and of society's forward movement, two questions remain - why would the University invite such a controversial speaker? Secondly, why would Michigan invite a Senator from Ohio?