Nick and I were making our way to our connecting flight in Chicago on July 16 when we found ourselves on the elevator with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Just the three of us — along with two protective agents. When I told him where I worked, he said there was a sports columnist at The Post he really liked. Since the lift was only going one floor down, I was quick to say what I never thought I would get the opportunity to say. “Thank you for Obergefell.”
Kennedy’s reputation as the swing vote on the Supreme Court was so renowned that arguments were tailored to speak solely to him. But when it came to honoring the dignity and guaranteeing the rights of the LGBT Americans, Kennedy’s vote swung in our favor. His remarkable rulings always landing on June 26.
On June 26, 2003, the court struck down sodomy laws and overturned a Supreme Court precedent that were used to prosecute and persecute gay men. The majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas marked the first time a branch of government affirmed the lives of gay people. “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” Kennedy wrote. “Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.”
On June 26, 2013, the court ruled the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In United States v. Windsor, Kennedy wrote, “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.” Roberta Kaplan revealed in the documentary “To A More Perfect Union: United States v. Windsor” by Donna Zaccaro how she used Kennedy’s own words in response to a query from him during the historic arguments.
And on June 26, 2015, the conservative Kennedy sealed his legacy as the conservative champion of LGBT rights in the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which ushered in marriage equality nationwide. “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves,” Kennedy wrote. “Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
If June 26, 2015, was the day that America was at its greatest, then Aug. 1 will mark the start of the post-Kennedy era. One filled with uncertainty as President Trump uses his second Supreme Court nomination to seal a solid conservative majority that most likely won’t be as expansive in its view of freedom and liberty as the man being replaced.
Standing at the crowded airport gate, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the agents clearing a path for the tall and elegantly attired justice. As I stepped aside, I watched the reactions of others at the gate. “Who is that?” one of the awaiting flight attendants asked another. “I don’t know,” she responded as they watched him walk through the door to the jet way.
That was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. The man whose rulings wove me, my husband and other LGBT Americans firmly into the fabric of America.
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