What Does Marital Status Have to Do with Fitness to Practice Law?

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Why do some state bars ask about an applicant’s marital status?  Whether one is now or ever was married seems irrelevant to one’s character and fitness to practice law.  I’m all for asking whether an applicant has complied with all court-ordered payment obligations, such as child or spousal support, but one’s marital status?  What does it matter if an applicant is or isn’t married?  Has been married one or five times?  I know plenty of ethical people who are single and married; multiply divorced and remarried.  I know plenty of unethical folks who meet each of those descriptions, too.

Further consider the special challenges faced by an applicant whose legal marriage in one state is not recognized by the state to which the applicant has applied for admission to the bar.  Past FLP Guest Blogger Amanda Gonzalez of Reconstructing Law School describes (here) her encounter with three bar examiners:

I was at the CLEO Mid-Winter Bar Preparation Seminar in DC and my fellow conference attendees were smart, delightful 3Ls. So let me explain…

On the second day of the programming three very nice bar examiners, representing CaliforniaVirginia, and DC, sat on a panel talking about the moral character portion of admittance to the various bar associations. * * * After patiently waiting my turn for the microphone I simply had to ask if these examiners had ever viewed their questions through the eyes of a lesbian woman or trans man. “Hi, my question is about whether or not your states are inclusive of the LGBT community. For example, do you present a third gender option, other than male or female, for transgendered individuals who may not fit neatly into those categories? Also, if you ask for marital status, do you ask for a jurisdiction? Say I’m married to a same sex partner in Iowa but living in and applying to the bar in Colorado where marriage isn’t legal. The marital status question isn’t so clear cut, unless it asks for the jurisdiction where I am married.” Crickets.

Other than crickets, you could hear the sounds of confused bar examiners furiously flipping through their questionnaires. Well, with the exception of Virginia, who simply said, “Um, no, we’re not inclusive. But I can bring it up at our next meeting.” Thanks sir, but that doesn’t help 3Ls who are currently filling out their applications. California told me that he didn’t think there were more than two genders and that marriage in California was still illegal. I pointed out that, unless his application asked for the state, I could be legally married in another state. “What, then sir, is the correct answer to the marital status question?” The crickets and I were becoming close friends at this point. * * *

Really, how often do you get to raise an eyebrow at the man, in front of 200 potential attorneys no less? That, I can tell you, felt pretty good.

Read the full thought-provoking post over here at Reconstructing Law School.

-Bridget Crawford

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