Monday, February 15, 2016

Antonin Scalia and Unconditional Love

Antonin Scalia is dead.  I cannot pretend that his sudden retirement from the Supreme Court doesn’t fill with me with relief and, dare I say it, joy.  At the same time, I feel sad that he has died, for he forced me to learn what it means to love everyone unconditionally.

I’m gay.  I’m an activist.  I'm a humanist and a Unitarian Universalist, who firmly believes in both the sanctity of life and the need to be faithful to the harsh realities of existence, as well as the tough choices people make in their lives.  Justice Scalia held beliefs far from mine.  What made him compelling as a public figure was what made him disagreeable as a jurist.  At his core in public life, he was bombastic, opinionated, brilliant, with provocative thoughts and a desire to make the world better in the image he carried in his soul.

Just like me.

I remember sitting in the Student Union of Wayne State University on June 27, 2003 -- the last day of my last undergraduate class -- reading an analysis in the New York Times of the Supreme Court decision in the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas, which made same-sex sexual activity legal in every state and territory in the U.S.  That case and ruling forever and finally ended the debate of whether people should be punished for living as God made them.   I remember that day and how I reacted to this news, as it started me on a 2-year path toward coming out of the closet.  

The highest court of the United States affirmed that I was an equal citizen!

Then I read Justice Scalia's dissent.  My God, were his words bitter and full of disdain.  He tried so desperately to justify a credible legal defense of state-sanctioned hate.  Through his writing, I saw a wounded and angry man who believed that accepting gay people as part of "normal" society would harm him personally.  I was ebullient, as the highest court in the U.S. had finally accepted my sexuality as something not monstrous or abhorrent to nature. Yet, I was a politically-active person and knew that Scalia -- a clever man in good health -- was not done in his fight against equality for people in the LGBT community, nor with other oppressed groups seeking changes to laws that kept the Interests in power.

Those who know me well will tell you that I hold a passion about politics that borders on anger. Social media is often the step I use to stand atop the virtual soap box and rant about what’s going on in the world.  While in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my husband, I read the news of Scalia’s death and I cheered.  God help me, I cheered -- loudly, proudly, and to the annoyance of my husband and friends who spent the evening with us.  The activist in me felt primal victory.  In the great Culture War, the “side” of progress and social justice -- my “side” --  had just won a battle.  I immediately calculated the political math in my head, and knew that despite Republican opposition in the Senate, President Obama would eventually nominate a replacement for Scalia, and the court would finally return to adjudicating cases based on the constitution instead of a warped view of conservatism activism.

I think of the scared boy I was in that Student Union 13 years ago, and how Scalia and the conservative Supreme Court majority had torn apart so much I felt was critical to democracy and to the law.  Scalia helped hand the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000 (despite Bush losing the popular and electoral votes). In 2010, he ensured that corporations could enjoy the same legal rights as American citizens, but without the commensurate responsibilities. Just two years ago, he ruled with the majority that businesses could discriminate against people based on religious beliefs.  The list of petty and racist comments during oral arguments, hostile dissenting opinions, and damaging majority opinions that Scalia wrote is lengthy.  In sum, he aided in acts that drastically damaged the very social fabric of the United States and his legal legacy will be remembered with scorn by the socially and economically oppressed. His name will be synonymous with endangering the rights of women to regulate their own bodies, limiting the ability of employees to fight back against workplace and gender discrimination, and with helping political parties that sought to rig elections in their favor when their ideas failed to persuade the public.

I will not miss him on the Supreme Court.  As an advocate for social reform and a firm opponent to his hard-line conservative ideology, I bid a laughter-filled and hearty "Buh Bye!" to Justice Scalia.

And yet...

I remember an early spring day in 2007, when I was invited by a friend to hear Justice Scalia speak at the University of Toledo in Ohio.  I vividly recall how he brilliantly captured the audience's attention, regaling all with extroverted speaking style and his blunt defense of his constitutional theory of “Original Intent”.  I remember hearing this man while he spoke 20 feet from me.  This representative of what I saw as the most dangerous form of bigoted power, whom I had grown to loathe because of his legal views, was not only charming, but very human.  I walked into that auditorium wanting to leave after the event hating him, but I realized midway through that event that I was nodding my head while he spoke, awed at his brilliance and sincerity.

He speak fondly of his love of opera; of his close friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal icon on the Court, and how their families celebrated New Year’s Eve together every year.  He was both funny and sharp in his remarks, and he answered every single question that was asked from the crowd.  Admittedly, it was not uncommon for him to respond with "That's a stupid question" or "I don't talk about cases", but that actually endeared me to Scalia the person.  I shook his hand after the speech.  He looked me in the eye, smiled, said "Nice to meet you!", as he did for everyone he met that day.

With an odd sense of clarity, I now realize how similar Scalia (the person) was to some of the patients to whom I have provided pastoral care in my current role of hospital chaplain.  If Scalia the man came to me and sought pastoral care, would I have ministered to him?  Could I have?  I have certainly encountered patients who had no problem articulating political and religious perspectives that are far different than mine during visits.

I hope I would ask about his family.  I would talk about faith and belief, and discover what I could do best to help him find peace in his time of need and transiiton.  I imagine him joking caustically about himself, mentioning friends and his storied career, providing loving stories about his children and grandchildren.  

I will always revile his professional work.  I closely hew to the principles of radical inclusivity and unconditional love that are central tenants of UU ministry and philosophy, but I hold righteous anger toward his legal legacy. I cannot ignore the negative changes that his binding legal opinions have had, and will have, for years to come.

The Blogger in front of the Supreme Court Building - 2/14/16
But I am truly sorry that he is dead.  I am not sad that he can no longer impose his activist style of conservative jurisprudence on this nation, but the role of a minister is to love unconditionally and without bias.  I imagine his wife, his nine children, and twenty-four grandchildren as they mourn their patriarch.  I imagine them preparing for a funeral.  I imagine them realizing that their husband, their father, their grandfather, will no longer be there to make them laugh or to provide comfort during hardship.

Being awake and alive and sincere means recognizing complexity and honoring it.  Spiritual healing is rooted in recognizing the differences between one's feelings and the universal need for harmony between living beings.  The boy I was who was scared, and scarred, by the bigotry Justice Scalia carried into the books of law has grown into a man who understands the beauty of contradictions.

May Justice Scalia, and Scalia the person, find peace.  May those of us still living find value in the spoken and written words of this brilliant man, even if they inspire us to stand taller and more resolute in promoting the idea of a society far different from his.

And may President Obama nominate a replacement for Scalia worthy of the nation's Supreme Court. A new justice who will fairly and impartially judge the constitutionality of laws.  Preferably, someone who can see that, although the arc of history is long, it will always bend towards justice.


  1. Thank you for your honesty. I can definitely relate.

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  3. "Just like me." It's true and and it made me smile.