Marriage Equality Honors for Boies, Olson, Singer: Scene

Composting, farming, and exercising the legal right to get married all improve urban life, according to guests from Harlem to Park Slope who gathered at last night’s benefit for the Citizens Committee for New York City.

“The building block of every community is family,” said Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management Corp. “Securing for gays and lesbians the basic right to have their relationships and families recognized as part of a community makes all of our communities stronger.”

The hedge-fund manager was on hand to present an award to lawyers David Boies and Theodore Olson, who last year won a Supreme Court case clearing the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in California. Since then, other judges have struck down bans on same-sex marriage, as in Virginia on Feb. 13.

Singer’s passion for the cause stems in part from the experiences of his gay son and son-in-law, who were wed in Massachusetts, the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. He has both funded and fund-raised for the Boies-Olson team, worked on legalizing same-sex marriage in New York state and created a political action committee to back the campaigns of Republicans who support marriage equality.

He recently partnered with Third Point’s Dan Loeb to fund a Human Rights Campaign project promoting international gay rights, which presented two panels at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month.

Bipartisan Support

While Singer is usually associated with the Republicans (he endorsed same-sex marriage opponent Mitt Romney), he’s a switch-hitter on this issue. He backed a joint venture by a Republican (Olson) and Democrat (Boies), who’d opposed each other in Bush v. Gore, the contest over the 2000 presidential election that went to the Supreme Court.

Olson, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, said that background as adversaries caused more people to pay attention to their work together on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and made them more effective. (A documentary film about the two lawyers’ fight against California’s ban on gay marriage, “The Case Against 8,” will be shown on HBO in June after winning a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival last month.)

Last night, Singer sounded optimistic about progress on marriage equality, just hours after Attorney General Eric Holder suggested a way around state bans on gay marriage in an interview with The New York Times.

“There’s work to be done, but the wind is at our back,” Singer said. “Public opinion is increasingly on our side, and the law is opening doors of opportunity that used to be nailed shut.”

Composting Grants

Boies, chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, said the fight for marriage equality is a fight for American values shared by Republicans and Democrats: equality of opportunity, personal freedom and personal responsibility.

He took care to note that these values are reflected in the work of the Citizens Committee, which last year distributed nearly $1 million in “micro-grants” to citizen-led improvement projects. Currently, grants up to $750 are available for composting (the deadline to apply is March 28).

“Federal, state and city governments can screw things up; they can also help,” Boies said. “But they can never replace what is done on the neighborhood level. Empowering individuals and empowering neighborhoods to bring themselves to their goal is what our country is all about.”

In 1975, the former New York Senator Jacob K. Javits and Newsweek editor-in-chief Osborn Elliott formed Citizens Committee when the city was in fiscal crisis. The organization receives a small amount of municipal funding, as when the City Council supported gay and straight alliances in Bronx high schools, said Peter H. Kostmayer, the chief executive officer of Citizens Committee.

Urban Farming

Last night, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito praised the organization for helping New Yorkers including the undocumented, women of color and Hispanics.

Also on the stage as honored guests were Chris Giamo, TD Bank’s president for the New York metropolitan area, who spoke of the Canadian lender’s funding for urban green spaces, and Nancy Ortiz-Surun, who created a farm in the South Bronx.

As guests dined on halibut and polenta, Singer sat between the chairman of Citizens Committee, Henry Cornell, a retired Goldman Sachs partner, and Deloitte’s CEO of financial advisory services, David Williams, who accepted an award for helping the organization design a tool to evaluate grantee effectiveness.

Williams said the event venue, Gotham Hall, a former bank building, was one of his favorites in New York.

“It’s what you see up to the left of the clock up there: It says ‘Waste neither time nor money, but use both for your neighbor’s good.’”