- Byliner Original
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy looked straight ahead, chin up, jaw tight. He might have been in a Zen trance.
He had just announced a civil rights landmark in the grand, hushed courtroom of the United States Supreme Court. The federal government, he said, could no longer discriminate against married gay couples under a law called, oddly, the Defense of Marriage Act. The law demeaned them, he said, and it humiliated their children. Gay couples were entitled, he said, “to live with pride in themselves and in their unions.”
The law had to go. The ruling was not particularly coherent as a matter of legal reasoning, but it had heart. It was good enough for the four liberal members of the court, who joined Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion and so, in a 5-to-4 decision, changed the course of the gay rights movement in America. Outside the courthouse, a huge crowd began to cheer.
Justice Kennedy was 76, and he had celebrated twenty-five years on the court a few months before. His seniority entitled him to the seat just to the left of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. As Justice Kennedy read his eight-minute summary, he was unusually animated, emphasizing words and phrases like a newscaster. He stumbled just once, over the name of the group representing the House Republicans who had intervened to try to defend the law. It was called, misleadingly, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, and Justice Kennedy could not get his mind or tongue around those words.
To the chief justice’s right...