U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has officiated a same-sex wedding for the first time in her law career and the public questions the implications. The event was held on Sunday, September 21st. The couple she married was Mitchell Reich, her former law clerk, and his husband, Patrick Pearsall of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
In a statement to the Washington Post, Justice Kagan said that this is “one more statement” about people who love one another and want to live together. She proclaimed that people should be “able to enjoy the blessings” as well as whatever difficulties may come within a marriage.
Mr. Reich, left, is age 27 and a lawyer at the Justice Department in Washington, which provides legal advice to the president as well as the attorney general. He attended both Yale and Harvard Law School (graduating from both magna cum laude). In 2011 he became president of the Harvard Law Review, becoming the first openly gay editor to do so. He served as law clerk for Justice Kagan until this past August. He will share his husband’s last name, as his middle name.
Mr. Reich’s husband, Mr. Pearsall, is 34 and a lawyer at the State Department in Washington. His focus is on international investments and projects of cross-border infrastructure. He graduated with a law degree from Columbia University, magna cum laude.
Spokesperson for the Supreme Court, Kathy Arberg, confirmed that this was Supreme Court Justice Kagan’s first officiation at a same-sex wedding; the action is not without implication. Other Supreme Court justices who have officiated at the weddings of gay and lesbian couples include Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
According to Time, one such wedding was conducted at the Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg was the first to preside over a same-sex wedding in August 2013, two months after the core of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned.
President Barack Obama appointed Elena Kagan in August 2010. She is the fourth woman justice in the history of the Supreme Court.
In 2012 President Obama made history when he came out in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples. He was the first U.S. president in office to make such a decision.
Two years prior the President had required hospitals that receive Medicaid and Medicare payments to grant patients the right to designate who could consult with and visit them. This enabled hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was put into place in 1996 under President Bill Clinton. The legislation barred same-sex couples from marrying at the federal level, even if their marriages were recognized in the state where they got married. This meant that marriages often were not recognized across state lines and that more than 1,100 federal protections were unavailable to LGBT couples.
As a result, many states banned gay marriage. Since 2004, a total of 19 states as well as the District of Columbia have approved gay marriage, beginning with Massachusetts in May of that year. (See related article, below: Same-Sex Marriage Pioneers Mark Ten Year Celebration.
In 2011, President Obama together with Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department of Justice could no longer defend DOMA. One year ago, in June 2013, the core of this legislation was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States, which is known as “SCOTUS” in the LGBTQ community.
A win for the Windsor v. United States case allowed for same-sex couples to gain access to the federal protections offered to heterosexual couples. Couples continue to fight for the right to marry at the state level.
Since the Windsor win in 2013, 40 same-sex marriage wins have been achieved in the lower courts. There have been just two losses. Currently 31 states have laws or constitutional amendments prohibiting the freedom for same-sex couples to marry. There are over 70 active cases in these states.
There is public support for marriage equality in the U.S. among its citizens. Whereas in 2003 only 37 percent supported same-sex marriage, today 59 percent do.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a statement recently about the urgency for the Supreme Court to discuss the issue of gay marriage. She referenced the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court which includes Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The lower Court is considering allowing bans to stand. She said that the Supreme Court will “not need to rush” if the lower Court strikes down the bans.
In just over one week, on October 6th, the Supreme Court begins its next term. During this term, the high Court is expected to decide whether all couples can get married nationwide under the U.S. Constitution. If that is the case, Supreme Court Justice Kagan is likely to officiate over more same-sex weddings, and the implication is that other justices may have their first chance to do so, as well.
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Fern Remedi-Brown writes about LGBT and other social justice issues.
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Same-Sex Marriage Pioneers Mark Ten Year Celebration