This past weekend’s San Francisco LGBT Pride celebrations were especially heady, coming as they did on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark rulings striking down two anti-gay-rights statutes.
On Wednesday June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its decisions on Unites States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.
In twin victories for the LGBT community, both Windsor (which challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]) and Perry (which challenged California’s Proposition 8 constitutional amendment) were decided in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples.
In the former case, DOMA’s Section 3—which allowed the federal government to refuse to recognize state-sanctioned same-sex marriages—was ruled unconstitutional for its violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment; in the latter, the appeal of the backers of Prop 8—which rescinded the legal right of gay and lesbian Californians to marry—was dismissed on standing (meaning that the defenders of Prop 8 were deemed not legally eligible to fight its overturning by California courts).
By throwing the constitutional amendment back to CA courts without ruling on the merits of denying marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples, the Supreme Court’s Prop 8 decision was the narrowest possible win for same-sex couples.
However, it was still a win, and one that will allow Chief Justice John Roberts’s lesbian cousin, San Francisco resident Jean Podrasky, to marry her fiancée, Grace Fasano.
I caught up with Podrasky (full disclosure—a personal friend) and Fasano at the Dyke March rally in Dolores Park on Saturday.
Podrasky wore an orange t-shirt with the words “I stand on the right side of history” in huge white letters, and the blue-and-yellow equal-sign logo of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). She and Fasano were radiant.
I congratulated the couple on their upcoming wedding, and asked whether they had been planning the ceremony while waiting for the SCOTUS decisions to come down.
Podrasky admitted that she had been so optimistic that she had “wanted to go for it,” but once she realized that the wedding venue deposit was non-refundable, she allowed Fasano to convince her to stick to “loose, general considerations.”
The couple plan to wed in the spring of 2014, probably at Lake Tahoe. “Or we might just elope,” Podrasky added playfully.
I asked what it was like for Podrasky and Fasano to attend the DOMA and Prop 8 hearings at the Supreme Court earlier this year.
“It was so exciting,” Podrasky enthused. Just walking into the hearing room and seeing all the statues and curtains was enough for her to exclaim, “This is the biggest deal ever! This is history!”
Before the oral arguments, Podrasky had hoped that her cousin John might rule in favor of gay rights, but once the hearings were over, she “knew he would vote against us…. Some of the questions were so 1950’s!”
Did Podrasky take Roberts’s vote to uphold DOMA personally?
She wrinkled her brow, and took a moment to reply. “There are a lot of cousins in our family, and he and I weren’t close growing up,” Podrasky finally said. “I think he stood by his personal beliefs…but I can’t help but take it personally.”
I asked her whether she expected a belated apology one day from the Chief Justice, just as retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had recently expressed regret over the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision.
“I have no idea,” said Podrasky, “but it would be nice!”
She speculated that her cousin might have counted the votes, and—knowing that DOMA would be overturned—decided that it was “safe” to protect his conservative bona fides by voting with the minority.
Fasano pointed out that, despite Roberts’s vote to uphold DOMA, history will award him the credit for the provision’s demise, because it was “his court” that issued the ruling.
“His legacy is intact,” Fasano explained, “so he gets to have his cake and eat it too. Neither decision spoke to the constitutionality of same-sex marriage—”
“—But a win’s a win!” Podrasky interrupted cheerfully. “We got the best outcome I expected, and it’s huge!”
She described last Wednesday morning’s excitement, as she and Fasano sat on the couch in their pajamas, glued to NBC’s Pete Williams and SCOTUSblog.com.
When the decisions were announced, Podrasky said, she and her partner went nuts.
“Our poor cats were asking, ‘Why all the crying? What’s going on?’,” she joked.
I asked whether Podrasky thought it was odd that the four conservative justices (including Roberts), who claim to champion states’ rights, voted against those rights by supporting DOMA’s Section 3. After all, Section 3 pointedly nullifies the right of states to determine what constitutes a valid marriage within their borders.
She agreed that the minority’s position seemed “contradictory,” especially given that those same four justices supposedly sided with states’ rights in their rejection earlier last week of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
Speaking of the deeply disappointing VRA decision, had it—along with the equally regressive Affirmative Action ruling—made it hard to fully enjoy the marriage equality victories?
“I can totally celebrate the rights we won, despite those other decisions,” Podrasky declared. “But those other rulings are a call to arms for the Democratic Party: We need to fix the whole voting process by establishing a national standard. We are moving forward with LGBT rights, but maybe backward with the rights of African Americans and Latinos.”
I asked Podrasky whether she thought we would win marriage equality in all fifty states, and if so, how soon.
“It’s going to happen,” she replied with absolute confidence. “HRC and the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) think we will get nationwide marriage equality within the next five years—via state ballots, state laws, and the courts—and I agree with them.”
In that case, what did Podrasky believe were the most important civil rights issues to tackle next?
“Besides marriage nationwide, and ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect LGBT Americans from workplace bias)? We need to support voting rights, and immigration rights,” Podrasky replied.
“Luckily,” she added, “younger people are more progressive; the GOP will go the way of the Whig Party and die off if it doesn’t evolve.”
I asked whether the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions had had any effect on Podrasky’s level of trust in our system’s ability to protect historically oppressed groups in the United States.
She paused to consider the question, then declared that the rulings had bolstered her faith not in our government’s protection, but in the ability of minority communities to fight for our rights.
“We’re getting smarter,” Podrasky said. “Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights leaders shifted things for African Americans, and gay rights groups are getting smarter too.
“We figured out that we have to have more openly gay politicians and judges and athletes and celebrities,” she explained. “We need more people of color, more women, more disabled people, more environmentalists, in positions of leadership in our society.
“It’s not that the system will protect us; it’s that we need to be part of the system,” Podrasky emphasized. “That’s how we are going to win the fight for our rights.”
Podrasky reflected that her little seven-year-old niece, who went to the Supreme Court hearings with her and Fasano, will remember that experience.
“One day she’ll look back and wonder why her Aunt Jean ever couldn’t get married,” Podrasky predicted.
We had come full circle back to the hearings.
As the lesbian cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts, Podrasky had expected some media attention when she attended the oral arguments, but she and her partner were unprepared for what Fasano called “the media frenzy.”
Podrasky acknowledged that her father had been worried about his daughter “coming out” to the entire nation.
Coming out to your family is really hard, she said—harder than coming out to your friends and neighbors.
“If I missed any of my relatives before,” Podrasky mused, “they know now!”
She said that she was inspired by the courage of Republican Senator Rob Portman’s gay son Will, whose coming out was instrumental in changing the conservative senator’s position on same-sex marriage rights.
What Podrasky didn’t realize until now, she said fervently, was “how important it is to come out.”
Podrasky stated that she believed the LGBT community had benefitted from her decision to come forward into the media spotlight, citing the “ripple effect” created by the large numbers of people who knew her—even casually—who “used [her] as an excuse” to talk about marriage equality.
“Everyone has a gay relative,” said Podrasky, “and I’m one of them, and I’m representing them.”
Fasano smiled and asserted that she was “really proud of Jean for stepping up.”
And what about Fasano herself, who, as Podrasky’s partner, had also appeared several times on national TV?
Fasano smiled again. “I’m proud to be ‘out’ to the whole world too.”