On Monday, March 2, BYU Law was pleased to welcome back Christoper Wharton, senior attorney and partner at Wharton O’ Brien, PLLC, a leading advocacy firm for LGBTQ individuals and families in Utah. Wharton is a Salt Lake City native, who has done pro bono work for the Utah Pride Center and the Rainbow Law Clinic and served on the board of the LGBT & Allied Lawyers of Utah. At a forum hosted by BYU Law’s American Constitutional Society and the Public Interest Law Foundation, Wharton discussed his work in developing Utah case law on several LGBTQ issues. He also spoke about barriers to legal assistance and effective advocacy for LGBTQ clients.
Wharton highlighted several cases that have set legal precedent in Utah on issues relating to marriage, adoption, surrogacy, and parental rights for members of the LGBTQ community. He discussed the impact of Kitchen v Herbert, in which the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit found Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and a 2019 Utah Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Utah law banning same-sex couples from entering into gestational agreements to have children.
When it comes to LGBTQ advocacy, Wharton said words are important. He emphasized that knowing and using inclusive terminology is critical to engaging in conversations that are respectful and comfortable for all. Wharton also identified several obstacles that may keep members of the LGBTQ community from seeking help:
- Legal definitions that exclude same-sex couples
- Dangers of “outing” oneself when seeking help, and the risk of rejection and isolation from family, friends, and society
- Lack of knowledge about LGBTQ-specific or LGBTQ-friendly assistance resources
- Potential or percieved homophobia or transphobia from non-LGBTQ service providers
- Low levels of confidence in the sensitivity and effectiveness of law enforcement officials and the courts for LGBTQ individuals
Wharton has represented more transgender and gender non-binary clients seeking name and gender changes than any other attorney in the state. In addition to his work as a lawyer, he serves on the Salt Lake City Council where he has been an advocate for human rights, equity, and the protection of under-served communities.