Skip to main content

Lawyer James Magleby '89 at Forefront of Marriage Equality Fight

James Magleby '89

James Magleby's kids don't normally pay much attention to what the attorney is up to at work. But when news broke of the U.S. District Court ruling on "Kitchen v. Herbert," which deemed Utah's ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional in December, Magleby's cool quotient spiked.

His 16-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter received texts and e-mails from friends who were passionate about the issue, and they responded, "That's my dad's case!"

"That's the thing I'll remember the most," says Magleby, a 1989 Swarthmore grad serving as co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "I was proud to have done something that my kids and their generation knew was important."

The fight continues, however, as the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on the case in Denver, Colo., on Thursday, tackling the question of whether statewide laws banning same-sex marriage violate the U.S. constitution. Magleby will be there with law partner and lead counsel Peggy Tomsic.

Because "Kitchen v. Herbert" was the first case to be decided by a federal District Court after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restricting the federal interpretation of "marriage" and "spouse" to just heterosexual unions was unconstitutional, it has national implications.

"Each subsequent District Court case has decided the issues in conformity with 'Kitchen,'" says Magleby, "and, in fact, cited to the 'Kitchen' case."

Magleby was a political science major and history minor in the Honors Program at Swarthmore. He and Tomsic graduated from the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and became long-time associates. The Salt Lake Tribune notes that they're known for climbing steep hills on behalf of underdogs - with positive results, such as the $134 million verdict they won in 2012 for USA Power, a utility firm started by three people, against the behemoth PacifiCorp.

Who better, then, to represent Derek Kitchen and five co-plaintiffs in what figured to be a long and extremely costly suit against the state of Utah? A state among America's most conservative, home to the worldwide Mormon faith that had thrown its weight behind laws to maintain the status quo, no less.

When the grassroots organization Restore Our Humanity approached Magleby and Tomsic, it conceded that the effort would be arduous. But with some big wins behind them, the attorneys didn't flinch.

"We're as smart as anybody else," Magleby tells the Tribune, "and we know we'll work harder."

Still, the quickness and decisiveness of the District Court victory surprised them, Magleby says. He was on vacation when the ruling came down, seeing "We won!" pop up on his iPad. A flood of texts, emails, and calls - including some from alums with whom he had lost touch - followed, along with overwhelmingly positive press both locally and nationally.

"For me, the most significant part was that about 1,300 couples were able to be married," says Magleby. "The media reports and stories about the effect this had on real people's lives are emotional for me, making the financial, mental, and emotional sacrifices worth it.

"This case will be the one my kids remember," he adds, "and the one I would tell grandchildren about."

For questions on the case or to express support, contact Jim Magleby at

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing