My piece this week is actually my impressions of the 2012 Profiles in Courage Awards at the Kennedy Library:
Three former Iowa Supreme Court justices were recognized with an award that usually goes to legislative officials from around the world, but the awards committee made an exception this year.
The justices were part of the unanimous Iowa high court that said in a landmark 2009 ruling, “Civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more…”
The three former justices who were honored in Boston May 7 — David Baker, Michael Streit and Marsha Ternus — had the bad fortune to be the first three who were up for a retention vote by the people of Iowa. National anti-gay forces poured millions into the state and marshalled an unprecedented scare campaign against the three justices. It worked. All three lost their seats, something they knew might happen when the ruling was made public. It’s saying something that every justice decided they would be willing to lose a seat on the highest court in their state, just to prove that the law should apply to everyone equally.
As Caroline Kennedy reminded everyone at the ceremony, “In 1963, as civil rights demonstrations throughout the South met with increasingly violent opposition, President Kennedy addressed the nation on television and said, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”
She continued: “Just as judges stood firm for civil rights fifty years ago, Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit, their colleagues on the Iowa Supreme Court, and dozens of other public servants all across the country – legislators, governors, mayors, city councilors and judges – have put their own careers on the line to uphold the rule of law and extend the fundamental promise of equal rights to same-sex couples.”
That was an amazing moment. In that library, giving out that award, to those Iowa justices — some of whom at first found the gay marriage issue to be a little foreign — who spoke of the epiphany many of them felt as they examined the case. Their eyes were also opened to the raw hatred of some of the other side.
Said former justice Michael Streit: “Right after our court filed the marriage equality case – five days later – the court received a hand-written letter. This letter really brought home to me – what we did in our decision was right. The author, after a few introductory remarks, too profane to read here, stated:
‘I defended the likes of you – as an American soldier in WWII and Korea. I conclude I served the wrong side – Hitler treated Queers the way that they should be treated – in the gas chambers! You are bastards.’
“The emotion revealed was breathtaking. We cannot change such raw and intense feeling with nuanced discussion,” Streit continued. “But this brought home to me what the gay community and the families with gay members struggle with every day. It also satisfied me that we were right to resist the political or expedient solution – to withstand the intimidation. People and forces that exploit this fear, prejudice, and paranoia. They pressured our court to follow the will of the people, no matter how manipulated or orchestrated – no matter how it violates the basic human rights of being treated as equally as all other citizens. Such forces must be challenged. My hope is that we have contributed a tiny ripple of hope and that this ripple builds a current that can sweep away such prejudice.”
You can read the rest here.