The same week as the Supreme Court prepared to hear arguments about whether Title VII should include protections for LGBTQ individuals, NBC’s legal drama Bluff City Law presented arguments of its own.
They just hid the agenda, initially, in absurdity.
In the Oct. 7, episode, “25 Years to Life,” attorneys Sydney Strait and Anthony Little go to court on behalf of their former law professor whose petition to legally change his age from 62 to 42 has been rejected by the city.
In court, Strait makes an impassioned “civil rights argument” on Professor Marshall’s behalf saying age, race, gender, sexual orientation all have definitions that “evolve.”
“We create categories like race, gender, sexual orientation and we think we know what those words mean. Because we think their definitions are fixed. But those definitions evolve,” she argues. “Sexual orientation started with the assumption that it couldn’t be fluid. Gender started as a biological classification, not an identity.”
But revealing the show’s true purpose, the bulk of her arguments had nothing to do with age.
She continued, “This is why so many young people are coming forward and saying your definitions are out of date. I may have been labeled a man when I was born, but I’m a woman. Or maybe I was told to be attracted to one sex, but I’m actually attracted to them all. We all have the right to privacy. And that includes the right to have our true identities recognized by the court, especially when people are already being discriminated against for having those identities.”
When it comes to his age “who are we to say he’s wrong?” she closes.
The judge finds some “merit” in Strait’s arguments and declares that “the world is changing,” but courts and lawmakers are “turning a deaf ear” to real discrimination.
“Mr. Little and Miss Strait, I hope your argument will serve as a catalyst for real cases about sexual orientation and gender identity, for these are people who should have their day in court,” the judge says.
However, she still denies the age change petition. The judge tells Marshall “off the record” that his “claim is “ridiculous” and to simply lie if he wants to date younger women.
After the verdict, the professor’s final conversation with his attorneys proved it was never about age at all, it was all about creating precedent and building arguments for protections for LGBTQ individuals.
“[I]n trying to win my absurd theoretical case you gave people with legitimate claims another argument to use to fight in court, as I knew you would,” Marshall tells them. “In fact, that argument will fit in nicely with that amicus brief I’m writing for the U.S. Supreme Court. The one on the subject of their needing to rule in favor of protecting gender identity under Title VII.”
Before saying goodbye, he tells them his girlfriend is 59 and his “son” — “She’s 25 and brilliant. And her father is very excited to tell her what you both did today.”