March 15, 1933– Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
“All of the incentives, all of the benefits that marriage affords would still be available. So you’re not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now.”
Drops gavel, walks off stage.
Marriage Equality is now a Constitutional right everywhere in the USA America, thanks to the SCOTUS’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015. It was a majority decision of 5 to 4, but there was one Justice who has stood out above the rest as a steadfast and fierce supporter of Gay Rights, and we like to call her The Notorious RBG.
Ginsburg’s support was crucial, from her personal opinion of the American public’s shifting attitude to the earlier oral arguments and, ultimately, the historical decision that says anyone in any state can marry the person they love. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg in agreeing that gay couples should be free to marry in all 50 states. We all know who declined.
Ginsburg was at the top of her class at Harvard Law in 1959, and after graduating she did not receive a single job offer. (Neither did Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she graduated from Stanford Law, seven years earlier.) Ginsburg had to beg for work. Finally, a favorite Harvard professor had to pressure a US Federal Judge in Manhattan to hire Ginsburg, threatening the judge he’d never recommend another Columbia University student to him unless he gave Ginsburg the big break. Her first assignment was to study Civil Law in Sweden. She learned Swedish for the job. She next taught at Rutgers Law School, and received tenure in 1969.
Before that landmark decision, Ginsburg had already been very vocal about same-sex marriage:
“The change in people’s attitudes on this issue has been enormous. In recent years, people have said: ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around, and discovered they are our next-door neighbors, we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that “this is who I am’, the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.”
Ginsburg used her noted wit to shut down the opposing side’s arguments. When “tradition” was brought up as an argument to maintain the marriage status quo, she countered by pointing out the extremely antiquated laws that defined marriage as being between a dominant male and a subordinate female. Clearly, that was a marriage tradition that desperately needed to be challenged, just like the opponents’ idea of marriage as only between a man and a woman.
When John Bursch, the lawyer representing the states who want to keep their same-sex marriage bans, argued that marriage was all about procreating, Ginsburg said:
“Suppose a couple, a 70-year-old couple, comes in and they want to get married? You don’t have to ask them any questions. You know they are not going to have any children.”
She even officiated at a same-sex wedding earlier, already a clear sign of her advocacy, where she also dropped a sly hint about the impending SCOTUS’s decision. When she pronounced Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn and NYC architect CharlesMitchem, to be “husband and husband”, Ginsburg emphasized the word constitution as she said: “By the powers vested in me by the Constitution of the United States.”
Ginsburg is only the second female SCOTUS Justice. The first was O’Conner. Now she is one of three, joined by Sotomayor and Kagan, and she is only the sixth Jew. She was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Ginsburg claims that she had been taught from childhood to champion Equality and to cherish Independence:
“My mother told me two things constantly. One was to be a lady, and the other was to be independent. The study of law was unusual for women of my generation. For most girls growing up in the 1940s, the most important degree was not your B.A., but your M.R.S.”
Ginsburg has held her seat as Supreme Court Justice for over 20 years. She remains one of the most important and articulate legal thinkers and interpreters of the Constitution. She is also a funny and engaged writer and speaker. She is a passionate fan of the opera, an avocation she shared with her unlikely pal, the now stiff Antonin Scalia. Ironically, the unusual friendship between the liberal, Jewish, well-spoken woman and the brash, Catholic, conservative bulldog is the subject of an actual opera. Scalia/Ginsburg, by composer Derrick Wang was presented at the Castleton Festival last summer. The opera about the pair of opera lovers, also celebrates the virtues of SCOTUS with an affectionate, comic look at the two unofficial leaders of its conservative and liberal wings. The premiere was highly anticipated and was attended by Ginsburg, who was warmly received by the audience; Scalia was in Rome saying his rosary and didn’t attend.
Before she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she had been nominated by President Jimmy Carter and served from 1980-1993 on the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1972, while still just a lawyer, Ginsburg helped launch The Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Throughout the 1970s, she litigated a series of cases solidifying a constitutional principle against gender-based discrimination. From 1972- 1980, she was a professor at Columbia University School of Law.
Forbes Magazine named Ginsburg to its list of 100 Most Powerful Women. Time Magazine listed her as one of the Time 100 Icons. She has also been named to The Stephen Rutledge List Of Fashion Icons for her signature collection of lace jabots from around the world. She wears a black one with gold embroidery and faceted stones when issuing her dissents, and another that is crocheted yellow and cream with crystals that she wears when issuing majority opinions.
Ginsberg is a two-time cancer survivor. She is now the oldest member of The Supremes with no intention of stepping down. She has stated that the Court’s work has helped her cope with the death of her husband Martin Ginsberg in 2010 (they were together 56 years). She has stated that she has found a role model in Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired after nearly 35 years on the bench at 90 years old. She does a daily workout with a personal trainer at the Court’s gym.
“As long as I can do the job full-steam, I would like to stay here. I have to take it year by year at my age, and who knows what could happen next year? Right now, I know I’m OK.”
Ginsburg, as you probably know, is no fan of the current POTUS:
“We’re not experiencing the best of times, but the Women’s March protests give me reason to hope that we will see a better day.”
“A great man once said that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle; it is the pendulum, and when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back. Some terrible things have happened in the United States, but one can only hope that we learn from those bad things.”
Ginsburg has defended the free press, the target of attacks from the president, who has calls the media “The enemy of the American People.” Ginsburg says that she reads both The Washington Post and The New York Times every day and believes:
“Reporters are trying to tell the public the way things are. What is important is that we have a free press, which many countries don’t have. Think of what the press has done in the United States.”
She cited The Washington Post’s Watergate investigation, and the work of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in exposing the Watergate scandal that eventually brought President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Ginsburg, who lives in the famous Watergate building:
“That story might never have come out if we didn’t have the free press that we do.”
After the Republican National Convention last July, Ginsberg incurred the wrath of you-know-who, when she told CNN that he was a “faker”:
“He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has a huge ego.”
Critics claimed that she had crossed the line. She later said she regretted the comments but fell short of apologizing… which the giant orange thing had demanded.
Please, Lord. Let her stay on until we can fix this thing!
Ginsberg’s memoir My Own Words was published in October, 2016.