Justice Kennedy At Center Of Gay Rights Decisions For A Decade
Ten years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law that criminalized some sexual acts.
Today, on the anniversary of that decision, the high court overturned a federal law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
At the center of those landmark decisions has been Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the court's majority opinions in both.
Kennedy, who often serves as the swing vote on a divided court, has been a quiet if crucial figure in the stunning advance of civil rights for gay Americans over the past decade. A decade during which the high court has grown far more conservative.
Given Kennedy's pivotal role, we decided to take a look at how he framed his opinions back in 2003 in the Texas case, Lawrence v. Texas, and in the decision he delivered today in rejecting the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.
Both opinions are suffused with the words "liberty," "dignity," "inequality," and "humiliation."
The case involved two gay men arrested in a private home and jailed after a complaint to police that they were engaging in sex. John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were eventually convicted of violating the "Homosexual Conduct" law, making them sex offenders in the eyes of many states, according to Lambda Legal, which helped the men bring the case to the Supreme Court.
The court by a 6-3 margin found the Texas law unconstitutional.
It marked a turnabout from a 1986 high court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick that found a Georgia anti-sodomy law constitutional.
Here are excerpts from Kennedy's majority opinion in Lawrence:
The case involved New York resident Edith Windsor, who in 2007 was legally married to her longtime partner Thea Spyer. When Spyer died two years later, she left her estate to Windsor who attempted to claim the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. The federal Defense of Marriage Act barred her from doing so, and she paid $363,000 more in federal estate taxes than a surviving heterosexual spouse would have owed. DOMA is a federal law enacted by Congress in 1996.