Juggling the Politics of a Justice: Ginsburg Officiates Same-Sex Wedding

We rarely see Supreme Court justices wade into the waters of political controversy outside the opinions issued from the hallowed halls of the nation’s highest court. The reason for staying away from controversy is that justices who delve into political issues in the public square but away from the bench may find themselves under fire for politicizing the office that is supposed to be free of politics.

Over the weekend, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first member of the Supreme Court to officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts between Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center, and John Roberts, an economist with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Ginsburg admitted back in the spring that she had never been asked to officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony, most likely because members of the gay-rights movement did not want to jeopardize potential cases. However, since the historic rulings of June 26 on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, Ginsburg has already agreed to perform another one.

Ginsburg was in the majority on both of the recent Supreme Court decisions related to same-sex marriage. In those cases, the Court struck down section 3 of DOMA, requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits, and declared the private citizens of California did not have standing to argue their case before the Court, effectively upholding the decision of the California Supreme Court that ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

Should we be surprised that Justice Ginsburg has jumped into the deep political waters of same-sex marriage? Not really.

Ginsburg is the senior liberal justice on the Court, and it came as no surprise that she supported same-sex marriage in the recent decisions. In fact, The Washington Post reported:

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.

Her agreement to perform a second ceremony in September was communicated to the individuals in a letter dated June 26, the date of the Court’s decisions.

Should we be disappointed that Justice Ginsburg has agreed to perform these ceremonies? Certainly.

Ginsburg’s decision to officiate these ceremonies raises questions regarding future cases related to same-sex marriage. One would be naïve to think that no other cases will reach the high court in the coming years. Even though Ginsburg turned 80 this year, she has clearly communicated that she has no plans to retire anytime soon.

When asked about performing the ceremony, Ginsburg stated:

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.

In this statement, Ginsburg has offered her personal definition of marriage that most certainly impacts her legal opinions on same-sex marriage. The only two qualifications for marriage, according to Ginsburg, are that people should “love each other” and “want to live together.” Notice that she places no limits on the number, gender, or consanguinity of the people—they simply need love and a desire to live together. As other cases make their way to the Supreme Court, specifically the “Sister Wives” lawsuit still pending in federal court in Utah, this definition of marriage is likely to play a key role in Ginsburg’s decisions.

Ginsburg’s definition is essentially what Girgis, Anderson, and George have called the revisionist definition of marriage in their book, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Ultimately, these authors find that the revisionist definition is incoherent because the state only has an interest in regulating certain relationships that are sexual and monogamous. The revisionist definition requires neither.

At the end of the day, this is another example of the culture’s march toward a redefinition of marriage. This time it came from the actions and words of a justice outside the walls of the Supreme Court. May we continue to be diligent to make the case for God’s design for marriage—one man and one woman for a lifetime.

_________________________

Robert Barnes, “Ginsburg will be first justice to officiate at same-sex wedding,” The Washington Post, August 30, 2013.

Brett Zongker, “Justice Ginsburg to officiate at same-sex wedding,” Associated Press, August 30, 2013.

Jim Dalrymple, II, “After 6 months, no ruling on ‘Sister Wives’ polygamy lawsuit,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 2013.

Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: Encounter, 2012), 15–21.

4 comments

  1. This subject is a really tough one for me. I truly believe what the Bible says. I do have a time with this because a marriage is a covenant before God and is something you are accountable for before God. I have an issue with our government in current state defining anything legally that is a covenant between two people and God. People who distort that covenant will answer to Him. It is a slippery slope, but we area to a point where I feel like it is hard for us to come up against this issue when we do not even chose to uphold the sanctity of marriage within the Church half of the time. I don’t want the government being in charge of me any more than they have to be. I’m sure this is a product of p.c. training through the years, but it is what I think.

    1. Hayley, your concerns are valid. Actually, it is not the role of government to define marriage, only to recognize it.

      Your other point that Christians have not honored God’s design for marriage is also true. Rampant divorce, cohabitation, etc, in the church do not give evidence of the truth of God’s design to a watching world.

  2. Here is my take on this…who are you to judge what marriage is defined as? I think that it is hilarious that “Christians” as a group are extremely close-minded and judgmental. As I’ve read from numerous of your posts, you and some of your readers are no different.

    How does it affect your life personally if the 2 women that live down the street from you want to get married? I bet it doesn’t. The fact that they love each other and want to have the same type of life that you and your wife do with a house, kids, legal protection in case something happens to one of them, recognition on a tax form, etc…who are you to say that’s not ok?

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but doesn’t your religion preach about love and acceptance? Your religion is based on a book, that was written 2000 or so years ago, and has had numerous translations and adaptations, taking things out or adding them in, and is what people are choosing to use to discriminate others on. Why are we as a society focusing on this one thing? Everything that we do is a “sin” Why do you get to judge how people sin, especially one that is based on love?

    The simple truth is that you don’t get to anymore-not legally anyway. Thanks to the Supreme Court (especially this kind lady above) the tides are turning in this country. Hopefully in the next 5 years I can get married to my girlfriend in my home state of Texas (that’s right I’m a lesbian) I am as American as apple pie, and all I want is to be able to love my family and have the same rights as you do. My marriage doesn’t threaten yours. If people can go get drunk at 1 am and get married in Vegas, or people can be on their 4th or 5th marriage…I’m sorry, but that is what is ruining your definition of marriage.

    So you can spout all your judgmental, hate-based words all you want, but you are going to find yourself in the minority soon enough.

    1. Thanks, for stopping by, Amy.

      Please allow me to respond to your comment. First, I am not offering any definition of marriage that is different from what human history has recognized for millennia.Your new definition of marriage based solely on love is actually the new one. In fact, my definition does not depend upon the Bible or any other form of religious teaching. It is certainly in keeping with the Bible, but not necessarily dependent on it.

      I recognize that you consider me to be closed-minded and judgmental. In some respects, that is true. But it is true of all of us. You have passed judgment on my view as well. You have dismissed it as unacceptable. Therefore, you fit your own definition of closed-minded and judgmental. The fact is, however, that we are all that way. Logic requires it. To be truly open-minded requires us to accept all positions as true–even those that are mutually exclusive. From an argumentation standpoint, however, your use of the “closed-minded and judgmental” language is an ad hominem argument–attacking the person rather than the argument. It is considered a logical fallacy.

      Your comments about my “religion” require further definition. Can you please let me know what you mean by “love and acceptance”? Historically, Christianity has not accepted everything. Love is certainly a central tenet, but not the only one. Can you also be more specific on what has been taken out of and added to the Bible over the last 2000 years?

      You are correct that divorce is a terrible problem. In fact, you can find that I have written on that as well.

      Finally, do you believe that there should be no limits on marriage? Do you believe it should be open to any group of people that love each other? For example, would you place a limit on the number of people who can get married (just 2 or can 3, 4, or more people get married to each other)? What about consanguinity (can a brother and sister or two sisters get married)? What about age (can 10-year-olds marry, or a 25-year-old and a 10-year-old)? If you place limits on these areas, on what basis do you do so? How are these limits different than any limit based on gender?

      Thanks for your comment, I look forward to further interaction on this topic.

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