RBG’s Passing Is a Monumental Loss for the LGBTQ+ Community

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

By Pedro Julio Serrano

September 24, 2020

“Without her influence and legacy, none of those landmark rulings would have ever been possible.”

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (affectionately known as RBG) is a monumental loss for the equality struggle—particularly women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ever since Ginsburg was appointed by former President Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1993, she was part of the majority for every Supreme Court decision that recognized LGBTQ+ rights.

The first landmark LGBTQ+ decision she took part in was Romer v. Evans in 1996, which struck down Colorado’s anti-gay Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment that barred government efforts to protect gays from discrimination. 

In 2003, she joined the majority in the Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws criminalizing sodomy, effectively eliminating all such laws in a dozen states and Puerto Rico.

RBG also joined in rulings that advanced marriage equality until same-sex marriage was finally declared constitutional by another Supreme Court decision in 2015. 

The first of those decisions was Windsor v. United States, which in 2013 struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a piece of legislation that precluded the federal recognition of marriages of LGBTQ+ couples. She also joined the ruling on Hollingsworth v. Perry, which restored marriage equality to California by declaring Proposition 8—a ban on same-sex marriage that had been approved by referendum—unconstitutional. 

In 2015, RBG joined in the final decision on marriage equality, Obergefell v. Hodges. The landmark ruling struck down state bans on marriage for LGBTQ+ couples and extended full marriage equality throughout the country and the territories, including Puerto Rico. 

It is important to remember that on each of these rulings on marriage equality, the Supreme Court Justices were split 5-4. If RBG hadn’t been on the court, the decisions may have been the opposite. 

More recently, Ginsburg joined in the majority decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which declared anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination at work was a form of sex discrimination, and therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. 

It is notable to pinpoint that Ginsburg herself became the first Supreme Court Justice to officiate the wedding of an LGBTQ+ couple, marrying economist John Roberts and Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser in 2013.  

She even said that marriage equality wasn’t going to screw anything up for straight people, by famously stating in the oral arguments to Obergefell v. Hodges that “all of the incentives, all of the benefits that marriage affords would still be available. So you’re not taking away anything from heterosexual couples. They would have the very same incentive to marry, all the benefits that come with marriage that they do now.”

There’s no doubt that RBG was our champion. Ginsburg was the architect of an inclusive vision of gender equality that was broad enough to include us as LGBTQ+ people. Without her influence and legacy, none of those landmark rulings would have ever been possible.

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time,” Ginsburg said, and she was indeed present each time LGBTQ+ rights were affirmed by the Supreme Court, step after step. 

Now that Trump wants to appoint another nominee for Ginsburg’s seat with less than two months until Election Day, we must remember to fight to protect the institution from an assault that infringes on civil liberties and individual rights.

In RBG’s own words, we must “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

We must make sure that our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our allies come to the defense of the Supreme Court to make sure it’s balanced and that no fundamental right is in peril.

That’s the lesson from RBG’s legacy: we must fight for what it’s right. The right to live fully as you are, and to love whomever you choose to love, are fundamental rights that must be protected at all costs. Let’s do it!


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