In January, Christopher R. Riano, then assistant counsel to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was appointed to chair the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Committee on LGBTQ People and the Law. Since then, the committee has drafted an amicus brief that NYSBA filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Fulton v. Philadelphia, arguing that a religious organization with a government contract cannot prevent same sex couples from becoming foster parents. And in June, Riano became the executive director of the Center for Civic Education in Los Angeles. In a recent interview, he answered questions about his vision for the committee and his new job.
Q: As the new chair of NYSBA’s Committee on LGBTQ People and the Law, you have said you are looking to have the Committee take a more active role in current affairs. How do you see the Committee’s role changing as we move forward?
A: The Committee has a long history of being an active leader in the profession, and I expect that will continue going forward. I’m particularly excited to see so many new members taking interest in our efforts, particularly when it comes to our work on amicus briefs and regulatory comments. These are national opportunities for us to be involved in some of the most critical cases and questions of our time.
Q: The Committee just drafted an amicus brief, which NYSBA filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. Why did the Committee and NYSBA choose to intervene in this case?
A: The Fulton case has generated significant interest on a national scale, and both our Committee and the Committee on Children and the Law felt this was a critical case for NYSBA to be heard on. It was an important opportunity to be a part of the discussion on some of the most pressing questions currently before the United States Supreme Court.
Q: Do you feel that the NYSBA brief will influence the outcome of the case?
A: I believe that everyone on the drafting committee would agree that we tailored our work in order to advance certain arguments that we felt would be particularly persuasive. A good amicus brief should be tailored to make points that otherwise have not already been made, and in particular should highlight arguments of particular relevance and interest to the party filing the brief.
Q: How much work goes into filing a U.S. Supreme Court brief and were there any steps in the process that surprised you?
A: I think that every appellate practitioner would agree that a significant amount of research and writing goes into every appellate brief, and that is what we expect when we take on a particular matter. While my experience in appellate advocacy has shown me that every brief is different, I am particularly proud of this one given how many young attorneys we were able to engage in the substantive work on the brief. I feel strongly that we have a responsibility to mentor younger attorneys and give them opportunities to participate in our work as lawyers.
Q: The recent publication of your book “Marriage Equality: From Outlaws to In-Laws” was a big milestone in your life. Why did you feel compelled to write that book?
A: My co-author and I felt strongly that it was important to write a book that would detail and document the numerous stories that made up the 50-year struggle for marriage equality from 1967 – 2017. The book takes up the mantle of telling the complete story of how marriage equality brought forth important changes to family law, religion and constitutional law. We wanted to create a volume that did justice to the legacy of the marriage equality movement and the rich tapestry of stories on both sides of the struggle.
Q: You also have a new job in a new field. Why were you interested in becoming the executive director of the Center for Civic Education? What do you hope to accomplish there?
A: There may be nothing more important given our current moment than the importance of ensuring that all members of our society have access to an education in civics and constitutional law. My organization has been a leader of ensuring a quality civic and constitutional education is available for students across the country, and it is critical that we all redouble our efforts to support organizations like the nation’s Center for Civic Education.