Ginsburg to officiate same-sex wedding


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stands in her chambers on Aug. 23. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first Supreme Court member to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony Saturday when she officiates at the Washington wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser.

The gala wedding of Kaiser and economist John Roberts at the performing arts center brings together the nation’s highest court and the capital’s high society and will mark a new milepost in the recognition of same-sex unions.

Such marriages were virtually unheard of a little more than a decade ago but now are legal in the nation’s capital, 13 states and in all or part of 17 other countries. After victories at the Supreme Court earlier this summer, a wave of litigation is challenging bans on same-sex marriages in states where they remain prohibited.

During a recent interview, Ginsburg seemed excited about being the first member of the court to conduct such a ceremony and said it was only a logical next step.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg said.


She added: “It won’t be long before there will be another” performed by a justice. Indeed, she has another planned for September.

Ginsburg and Kaiser are close friends. She is perhaps the Supreme Court’s most ardent supporter of the fine arts, especially opera. Kaiser, 59, has been at the helm of the Kennedy Center since 2001 and is an internationally recognized expert in arts management and one of Washington’s most influential civic leaders.

“I can’t imagine someone I’d rather be married by” than Ginsburg, Kaiser said in an interview.

Roberts, 32, who works at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is not related to Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. When save-the-date cards were sent out this spring, there were jokes involving the coincidence of the names.

Earlier this summer, Ginsburg was in the majority in a pair of major gay rights victories at the Supreme Court. The court said the federal government may not refuse to recognize legally married gay couples and reinstated a lower-court ruling that found California’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.

The chief justice was in the minority that would have upheld the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which said the federal government would recognize marriages only between a man and woman.

The Supreme Court’s decisions in June had no effect on the marriage plans of Kaiser and Roberts because same-sex unions have been legal in the District of Columbia since 2010.

Kaiser and Roberts are scheduled to be married in the Kennedy Center atrium Saturday night before 220 guests. Invited are stars of opera (Renee Fleming, Harolyn Blackwell), from Broadway (Ron Raines, Barbara Cook) and an array of some of Washington’s most influential philanthropic and arts patrons, such as Richard and Betsy DeVos, Catherine and Wayne Reynolds and Jacqueline Mars.

It is not uncommon for Supreme Court justices to officiate at weddings, most often for former law clerks or close friends or relatives. Ginsburg tied the knot for her son, for instance. Justice Clarence Thomas performed a ceremony for radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Ginsburg said she thought she and her colleagues had not been asked previously to conduct a same-sex ceremony for fear it might compromise their ability to hear the issue when it came before the court. But once the cases had been decided, Ginsburg seemed eager for the opportunity.

David Hagedorn read Ginsburg’s comments about not having been asked this spring and sent her a letter asking her to officiate at his Sept. 22 wedding to Michael Widomski, director of communications and executive affairs for the National Weather Service.

Hagedorn, a food writer and contributor to The Washington Post, had met Ginsburg at a social event but said he did not know her.

Ginsburg said she could not answer until after the term ended. He received a letter agreeing to conduct the ceremony that was dated June 26, the day the court announced its decision in the DOMA case. “You can imagine what that meant to Michael and me,” Hagedorn wrote in an e-mail.

Her prominent role in the debate about same-sex marriage will be another high-profile moment for Ginsburg, who turned 80 this year and last month marked her 20th year on the court.

With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, Ginsburg became the senior justice among the court’s four liberals and has embraced the role. When they are in the minority on important decisions, Ginsburg has urged fellow Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to unite behind a single dissenting opinion.

And despite her more prominent role on the court, the question she has been asked most frequently this summer is when she plans to leave. Several liberal commentators have suggested she retire in time for President Obama to nominate her successor.

But Ginsburg said she has no plans to leave anytime soon.

“All I can say is what I’ve already said: At my age, you take it year by year,” she said.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006. He gave up law school plans for a life in newspapers after taking a journalism class in college. It did not occur to him, as it apparently did to others, that he could do both.
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