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The man behind the Proposition 8 lawsuit

When Chad Griffin challenged California's same-sex marriage ban, gay rights groups feared the case was too risky. Now he's hailed as a visionary.

June 23, 2013|By Timothy M. Phelps, Washington Bureau

In the months after filing the suit, Griffin was under what one colleague called "a white-hot spotlight." Some liberals mistrusted Olson's motives. Not trusting Olson and Griffin to handle the suit by themselves, three groups attempted to intervene, which would have given them a measure of control.

Griffin was outraged. He wrote a letter denouncing the would-be interveners, accusing them of trying to undermine the case, and released it publicly. They expressed shock.

Griffin defended his decision and the letter with an eye to history.

"If you just look through the history of time, there's always reason to wait," he said in his Washington office.

"There's always someone who wants to slow down. At the same time there are real live people who provide that sense of urgency about why we can't wait. And we had the best lawyers, the right strategy and the right plaintiffs."

Part of that strategy was to combine Olson with his Democratic opponent in Bush vs. Gore, David Boies. That combination attracted major donors to support the lawsuit.

"Chad had essentially found a way to take two of the most powerful legal minds in the country — who had often been at odds — together, and that was such a seismically different way of approaching this issue," said producer and director J.J. Abrams, one of the key backers of the lawsuit. "I just thought it spoke to his boldness and his willingness to think out of the box to get what needs to be done done."

Griffin's office finishes the story. The renegade who challenged the gay legal establishment is now at its apex. A year ago he was named president of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which calls itself the world's largest gay rights advocacy group.

tim.phelps@latimes.com

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