Christopher Wolf is an attorney in Washington D.C. He’s a partner at the law firm Hogan & Hartson, specializing in privacy law. In one pretty remarkable case from 1998, McVeigh v. Cohen, Wolf helped keep a Navy petty officer from being dismissed under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, because the details used in the investigation were illegally gleaned from private AOL chats, violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Wolf is also the attorney hired by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame in their since-dismissed civil suit against Vice President Dick Cheney. So you might say the guy knows a thing or two about the importance of your rights to keep your personal life, well, personal. Wolf is also a gay man — something he just decided to disclose to the entire world in a not-so-private move.
It’s not that Wolf has been hiding his sexuality, but when you come out in a column on CNN.com, you’re about as out as you can get.
But Wolf has a personal interest in the latest gay dealings outside his own career, like this week’s creation of legal gay marriage in the nation’s capital; Wolf and his domestic partner of more than 12 years will wed, and “with our marriage will come a bundle of rights, making us equal under the law to our heterosexual peers. More fundamentally, we will be able to have our loving commitment to each other officially recognized, like any other committed couple. And in terms of personal privacy, no longer will I have to indicate my sexual orientation to anyone who asks me whether I am married, as I can thereafter simply answer ‘yes’ rather than explain that I have a ‘domestic partner,’ the well-understood code that one is in a gay relationship. The marriage license the Superior Court is providing us will include the right to privacy in our relationship. I am not closeted, but it is part of my right to privacy to choose with whom I share the information about my sexual orientation. Indeed, that is what the California Supreme Court ruled in declaring equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.”
But Wolf’s interest in privacy and gay rights do not end there. He’s particularly incensed about the Supreme Court obstructing democracy twice over: by refusing to let cameras in the federal Prop 8 courtroom; and for letting the signatories putting Referendum 71 on the ballot to challenge Washington State’s “everything but marriage” law.
The U.S. Supreme Court has found that opponents of gay marriage who supported Proposition 8 — and whose testimony will be offered in San Francisco trial to show a discriminatory animus relevant to the equal protection issue — are entitled under their right to privacy not to have their testimony videotaped for public viewing. The Supreme Court cited the potential harassment of the witnesses if their testimony is shown. The harassment argument also is being made about the signers of the petition in Washington state on gay marriage, who claim the right to have their names removed from public view. (That case admittedly, is more complicated, as petition signing has attributes of voting, where one’s vote is private.) The difference in the privacy rights afforded gay couples and those who worked to ban gay marriage is obvious. The opponents are people who chose to involve themselves in a public debate, to enter the public square.
[...] As a litigator, I know that televising a trial can indeed create a circus atmosphere if it is not carefully controlled. On the other hand, filtering what goes on in a courtroom through the printed word only deprives people of the opportunity to see what really goes on — to judge demeanor and motive, which will be especially important in understanding the testimony of the Proposition 8 supporters. The judge in the trial of Proposition 8 appeared to strike a balance, to avoid a circus, by allowing only delayed videotape access to coverage of the trial. The Supreme Court disagreed. In the first privacy ruling in the California gay marriage case, the Supreme Court declared itself in favor of privacy for opponents of gay marriage. When the case comes back to it on the merits, as it surely will, let’s hope that other privacy issue, as well as the equal protection issue, finds similar support.
Best wishes on your upcoming wedding, Mr. Wolf. And we’ll do our best not to leak the guest list.