Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Legal Poetry and Passion

benson20733540805202Legal opinions have the reputation of being dry and opaque. In contrast, the recent rulings on same-sex marriage have the qualities of poetry and passion.

The rulings came from a diverse set of judges – Democrat and Republican, male and female, gay and straight, blue state and red state. The one thing they had in common was putting their footprint on the right side of history.

Their opinions were seasoned with more than references to precedents. They spoke of families and neighbors and how the government, in the name of a virtue clung to by some, but rejected by a growing number of others, had impacted their lives.

The Associated Press compiled a sampler of the soaring legal language used in the opinions. Here are some excerpts:

“Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a more perversion, a mental disorder or a mortal sin,” wrote Oregon Judge Michael McShane. “I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called ‘smear the queer.'”

McShane continued, “I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion and service to the greater community.”

Utah Judge Robert Shelby, a former Army combat engineer, ruled, “In the absence of such evidence [of any effect on opposite-sex marriages], the state’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the state’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of gay and lesbian citizens.”

Michigan Judge Bernard Friedman, appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, wrote, “State defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about. No court record of the proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs, who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples.”

Virginia Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s opinion drew on earlier battles over civil rights. “Justice often has been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. We have arrived upon another moment in history when ‘We the People’ becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.”

Arkansas Judge Chris Piazza, facing re-election and enduring the wrath of former Governor Mike Huckabee, said, “It has been over 40 years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband have lived full lives together; so it will be for same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.”

Pennsylvania Judge John Jones III, a former public defender and head of his state’s liquor control board, summed up with, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”



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