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Justice Stevens’ 5 Supreme Court Decisions That Changed Gay Rights Forever

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Supreme Court justices are a bit of a crapshoot. Take sitting Justice John Paul Stevens for instance. President Ford selected him as a moderate conservative, but Stevens ended up one of the most liberal and pro-LGBT justices on the bench. During his 35 years on the court, he treated the Constitution as a living, breathing document flexible enough to address modern-day disputes. He also took on the roles of active questioner during oral arguments and back room diplomat during deliberations. The 90-year-old justice announced his imminent retirement last week, and while LGBT liberals have begun wondering whom Obama will pick to replace him, five of Justice Stevens’ cases did much to lay the groundwork for the three upcoming queer legal battles. Let’s get heavy, and see how these five cases changed America’s gay rights landscape.

 
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  • 16 Comments
    • reason
      reason

      I was wondering when this site would give Justice Stevens, a man who has done so much for this community while serving in one of the most powerful positions in this country, the adulation that he deserves. The delay has me questioning the values of this community, an 18 year old going to the prom is loaded with applause while Stevens hasn’t been mentioned though it has been known for days that his retirement is imminent. I am not saying that a mom support of her son and his ability to go to prom with a same sex date is not a great thing, but to post that before a word about Stevens? For a person who is surprised less often, it is still a bit unsettling.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 2:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Devon
      Devon

      Thank you, Justice Stevens. I admit that I’m woefully uninformed about the supreme court justices and most of the cases they hear. But from the sound of it he’s been a rare voice of reason in Washington.

      Hopefully whoever Obama picks as a replacement is cut from the same cloth.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 4:50 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Daniel
      Daniel

      @reason: “The delay has me questioning the values of this community.”

      It’s totally my fault. It took me 20+ hours to look up, read, and understand all his cases (including talking with constitutional scholars), and write the darned thing. Though I’m trying to get faster.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 9:04 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"
      Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"

      @ No. 3 Daniel

      Good article, tightly written and informative.

      A minor correction: you cite the Bowers v. Hardwick decision as 7 to 4; should be 5 to 4.

      There is also one very annoying point, though I an unsure where to point the blame. Once again as St. Patrick’s Day approached, there is the standard article criticizing the standing rules against Irish-American gays/lesbians marching in the parade in NYC. Fine, I think they should be able to march. BUT, while posting the article, Queerty never cites let alone mentions the Hurely (Boston’s can the gays march in the parade) case. In today’s article, you lay out what happened, the decision, and the good aspects that the decision has on PROTECTING the LGBT community’s ability to hold its own pride parades and functions without the fear that anti-gay groups would be there spewing their hatred within our pride events.

      “Baiting” your readers is not the best method of enlightening us with information that helps us all to promote our civil rights.

      Catty articles are all fine and dandy and sometimes fun. But articles such as this one provide so much more.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 9:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tjr101
      tjr101

      I must say this is by far one of the best and most informative articles I’ve seen on Queerty. Justice Stevens is one of the finest jurists in this nation’s history and he would be hard to replicate.

      Its important that the president chooses someone of similar integrity and ideological leaning. Our country and the LGBT community’s future depends on bringing the SC back to equilibrium from the drastic right-ward tilt it’s taken during the last 10 years.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 10:39 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Lanjier
      Lanjier

      Great job, Daniel. Such a wonderful thing you have done by honoring these wonderful liberals on the court. I still remember how bad I felt when I read Bowers v. Hardwick when it was decided, and how elated I was when that opinion was finally thrown in the trash by Lawrence v. Texas.

      In Romer v. Evans, the first true gay rights Supreme Court opinion, that ignorant crumb Scalia characterized the issues and the gays in the case as simply having a “fit of spite” — a homophobic slam if I ever heard one. He was enraged that the future of his precious hate case Bowers was on the chopping block. I will never forget the glee at seeing his temper rise so high he would actually belittle a party to the case, and their lawyers.

      Scalia’s use of the term “fit of spite” is one reason I think the majority made the point that when you strip all the false reasons for the necessity of the hate law, the only thing left — the real motive behind the law — was “animus.”

      Apr 13, 2010 at 10:40 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • D'oh, The Magnificent
      D'oh, The Magnificent

      @Daniel: You did a really good job. It is far more important you took the time to get it right rather than using the McWriting approach that we all are used to doing on blogs.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • reason
      reason

      @Daniel: Usually a site will at least break the news then continue to build on the story as time passes. This gets the readers engaged, they can start looking into it and as you release more information an educated discussion will ensue. In other words I stand by my comments that a story with such gravity should have been mentioned days earlier. That is just my opinion to make the site better and to do more justice to the readers, and the cause. I am appreciative that you have spent time on the subject, and slightly regretful that I scolded you in front of your readers, but when I have tried to express a grievance privately, blocked post etc., I received no response or resolution. Maybe like a rotten child I pursued another avenue. Anyways thanks for your work, even the parts I disagree with, and I look forward to reading your background information on possible nominees. I hope you value my opinions as well.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Ryan
      Ryan

      While I appreciate this article, I want to point out that the Equal Protection Clause was ultimately not the lynchpin of the Lawrence v. Texas holding. Justice Kennedy focused on the liberty provision of the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which in many ways makes the decision even more important (this was the argument Stevens put forward in his Bowers dissent). The reason we got to 6 votes rather than 5-4 is because Justice O’Connor concurred in the result based on the Equal Protection argument you described as the “holding” of the Court. In other words if the Texas statute had outlawed sodomy without respect to gender, she would have voted to uphold it, but because it targeted gays, she voted with the majority.

      It’s not simply splitting hairs then to point out the liberty provision of the Due Process Clause struck down ALL laws aimed at private consensual sodomy, regardless of gender, because laws aimed at prohibiting private consensual conduct served no rational purpose. It’s actually the Due Process liberty provision holding, rather than O’Connor’s Equal Protection position that is why Lawyrence “matters” going forward. The big decisions coming in the years ahead, if they come at all, are actually going to be grounded in the Due Process Clause, rather than the Equal Protection Clause (it’s not accident, for example, that it provided the bases for Loving v. Virginia in 1967 striking down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation marriage statute).

      All best,
      RY

      Apr 13, 2010 at 5:44 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Daniel
      Daniel

      @reason: Speed is something I’m having to rise to
      as a fledgling blogger. I come from an academic journalism background that focuses more on research and refinement. But I agree with you suggestion and believe me, David would have loved to have this article out sooner. He’s been patient but persistent in his attempts to increase my speed.

      I’m glad you stand by your comment and don’t regret being “scolded” (as you say) in the least. Bloggers answer primarily to our readership (and to lawsuit threats) and so I appreciate fair criticism. I also thoroughly enjoy reading comments and try to respond whenever someone raises a valid point.

      I like this blog very much and am working hard to provide quality content that educates and entertains our ENTIRE community. Over time I hope to put the “queer” back in Queerty by providing more lesbian and bisexual content as well as coverage for people of color, older age, HIV+ LGBTs, as well as the local activists, artists, and issues that usually slip by most national blogs.

      Thanks so much to all of you for your continued support. Your input keeps me motivated to try my best.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 5:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • D'oh, The Magnificent
      D'oh, The Magnificent

      @Daniel: Please ignore Reason. Volume is not the mark of excellence. I would prefer you go slow to get it right than fast and create crap.
      @Ryan: You are correct as the equal protection analysis would have a much broader and far reaching impact. However, it does open the door for equal protection analysis a little bit. Thus, Scalia’s dissent.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 6:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • zenflo
      zenflo

      Yes, yes. I have been guilty of bashing the Q.

      On any given day I might be seated comfortably, eating my tuna-salad sandwich or diddling myself with one hand, and with the unsticky hand, typing acerbic retorts that assailed Queerty editors for articles that were truly stillborn in the cold light of day.

      And mind you, the Q will be receiving my therapist’s invoice that corresponds to the week it published “Six Bad Things Gays Do on an Airplane” or whatever it was.

      But look! Look here!

      It rises from above the murky mists — and lo, what have we here?

      I see it now.

      It is — gadzooks! — a fine Queerty article. It is timely, it required intellectual effort, and the author was gracious enough to uncloak for us. And the headline…

      “groans with effort”

      the headline … made sense!

      So you know, um, cheers, cheers, thanks a lot.

      Apr 13, 2010 at 10:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • doubter
      doubter

      @reason: you’re an idiot. “questioning the values of this community”….there is more meat in this article than most of the paltry blogs on the web…a good scotch takes years to produce, and a good article can take more than a few clicks of a mouse and cutting and pasting on a word processing program. get over yourself…

      Apr 13, 2010 at 10:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • reason
      reason

      @Daniel: I look forward to reading your future work, it sounds like you will be providing a refreshing change to this site. Accepting constructive criticism with such grace informs me that you are intellectually mature and your advisor was a good educator. I am excited that I might actually learn something on here, or at the very least be mentally engaged. Thanks for taking the time to respond, that is already a pleasant change. I would appreciate it if you identified yourself, so I know whose work I am reading.

      Apr 14, 2010 at 1:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jeffree
      jeffree

      @Daniel: You wrote a clear, crisp, and thoughtful article. No need to apologize.

      What was best in your writing was the comparision between what the popular opinion was –at that time– and what he saw as just, fair, & moral. His dissenting opinions showed that our constitution is in fact a living, breathing thing, and that even if someone is out-voted, s/he still *must* and *should* voice an opinion.

      Since matters of Constitutional Law hinge on precedent, his voice may have been ahead of its time but it is IN THE RECORD. The rights of LGBs would +NOT+ be where they are today without his opinions.

      Justice Stevens may have been in the minority on some key issues, but he trumped Scalia in terms of argumentation and debate.

      My hope is that the far right wing of Congress recognizes that the truth behind his reasoning & will not block some nominee just because s/he too sees our Constitution as something that –like everything & everyone– is a work in progress.

      Stay brave Daniel! Thoughtful journalism needs careful thinkers like you!

      Apr 14, 2010 at 2:34 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ulissey
      ulissey

      Loved the article. The whole system of law making in the USA is so different from the French one, and quite baffling.the link to this article is in today’s “TETU” website.

      Aug 4, 2010 at 7:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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