Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Marriage Equality

The first same-sex weddings Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated (Photo Credit: Margot Schulman via Kennedy Center{left} and Ralph Pellecchio and Jim Wernz {right})

There is no denying Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a champion of equal rights.  Throughout her career as a lawyer, she argued six cases before the Supreme Court of the United States, most of which dealt with women’s rights. In the ‘70s, Ginsburg volunteered at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and became the director of the Women’s Right Project. It was in that time Ginsburg appeared as a lawyer before the Supreme Court, and where she helped shape gender equality laws in the United States.

During her time as a justice on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was a vocal ally to the LGBTQ+ community. In the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that brought full marriage equality to the United States, Ginsburg spoke her opinion on the subject during oral arguments:

“All of the incentives, all of the benefits of 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.”

Unsurprisingly in August 2013, Ginsburg became the first Supreme Court Justice to officiate a same-sex wedding for her longtime friend Michael Kaiser, former president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and his partner, John Roberts at the Kennedy Center.

Ralph Pellecchio and Dr. James Carter Wernz became the first same-sex couple married at the Supreme Court thanks to Pellecchio, who was a student in one of her classes at Columbia Law School. In an interview with Spectrum News NY1, Pellecchio said, regarding his time in Ginsburg’s class,

“She was brilliant, inspirational in terms of her teaching of the law and also the most wonderfully warm human being. It was one of the best experiences I had in law school.”

Pellecchio kept in contact with Ginsburg over the years and she made so much of an impact on his life and law career that he expressed his wish for Ginsburg to officiate his wedding to Wernz. While his partner and family were skeptical about it, Ginsburg responded a few days after Pellecchio wrote the justice a letter.

“Ralph looked at me and said ‘what do you think about a destination wedding? Justice Ginsburg has agreed to marry us.’ And I was totally floored,” Wernz explained.

In an interview with Anderson Cooper for the CNN show, Full Circle, Jim Obergefell talked about what Ginsburg meant to him:

“For all of us in the LGBTQ community, but I would also say any marginalized group in our nation, we’re reeling from the death of an advocate for equality. In the lead-up, you (Cooper) showed that clip when Justice Ginsburg said, ‘If people didn’t begin to care,’ my case, marriage equality, wouldn’t have turned out the way that it did. And for me, I think that also includes Justice Ginsburg as well as the other justices in that decision on our side. If they didn’t care and if they didn’t understand that equality is important and the Constitution applies to every single American, not just some, we wouldn’t have won marriage equality either.”

 

Justice Ginsburg was brought to the Supreme Court where she lies in repose until Thursday evening and then will lie in state at the Capitol, the first woman bestowed the honor.

 

 

Sources: Washington and Lee University School of Law, Global Citizen, Mother Jones, Supreme Court of the United States, NPR, Spectrum News NY 1, CNN, ABC News,

 

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