Samuel Alexander Garrison III catapulted to fame during the Watergate impeachment trial, during which he defended President Richard Nixon. His unsuccessful argument rested on whether or not the country would actually benefit from booting the crooked politician. His star will fall a decade later when the lawyer embezzled $46,000 during a bankruptcy lawsuit.
Garrison – a man who has been described as “extraordinary” – would later divorce his wife, regain his law license and come out. Of Garrison’s coming out, friend Hal Cohen remarks, “It was a very long, agonizing process for [Garrison], his coming out. He was married and had two children and was still a conservative Republican.” After coming out, Garrison cut his ties to the anti-gay GOP and aligned with Democrats and gay activists. Though it may have been a difficult journey, Garrison entered the activist scene with renewed energy. His most famous case came in 1998, when he defended ten Virginian men arrested for soliciting oral sex in two city parks. Garrison argued that the state’s anti-sodomy laws violated the constitution. Unfortunately, a judge didn’t agree and Garrison lost the case. While certainly a blow, Garrison was more concerned with changing cultural attitudes than laws.
His lover of 17-years, Mark Harris, explains Garrison’s social slant:
Sam’s goal was to convince society that being gay shouldn’t be a question of right or wrong, but a part of who they are. He asked, ‘Why should such a small part be such a big deal?’
Unfortunately Garrison won’t be able to see the end of the gay rights movement. He lost a lengthy battle with leukemia last Sunday. He’s survived by a son and three grand children.