Scalia – the Supreme Reminder

My childhood in Serbia, as a gay youth, was  a perpetual buffet of bullying and social ostracism, served  by my peers and applauded by the law enforcement and the courts. A move to San Francisco to live with my father at seventeen changed my life – until I fell in love with a Canadian, whom I could not sponsor to the United States. Canada welcomed me with a promise of full equality. By my mid twenties, bullies and homophobes had forced me out of two homes. Today, I am happily married and I work as a family and immigration lawyer in Toronto.

I forgave those daily kicks, bruises and cigarette burns on my body long ago. They were kids in a war torn country, whose own lives were in turmoil. I cannot, however, forgive Michelle Bachman, Tony Perkins and Antonin Scalia that easily. I learned early that the most dangerous violence comes, not from the fists of bullies, but from the pens and the mouths of legislators and judges and the silence of our neighbors.

To my generation, raised in the shadows of homophobia and forged in the fires of political oppression, SCOTUS ruling in Windsor signaled the imminent end of a walk through legal wilderness. Along with our straight allies, we have summoned the change that is happening today. But in our excitement, let us not forget the real hero of DOMA cases – Justice Scalia. While I relished every word of Anthony Kennedy’s ode to equality, it is Scalia’s dissent that echoes in my mind. It is his dissent that none of us should forget.

Mr. Justice, since you have been a fixture in our bedrooms, offices and schools for decades, it seems only appropriate to drop the formalities. May we call you Tony? Thank you Tony for reminding us that caustic words from a Supreme Court Justice are far more destructive than the fiery rhetoric of southern members of Congress. Clothed in the authority of high office, your words give permission and ideological cover to homophobes, hooligans and bullies to carry out their action with a sense of righteousness. President Putin says hi. Your comparison of homosexuality with murder, your ironic speech on “moralist judges” and “Mullahs of the West” and your harmful anti-gay rhetoric are not just reprehensible and, dare we say, impeachable. Your contempt and disregard for the appearance of impartiality dishonor the venerable office that you hold. You are not in the least bothered that your public pronouncements against homosexuality should preclude any reasonable judge from considering the facts and ruling objectively on the issue of same-sex marriage.

But this is not just about us Tony. Your bias and arrogance do not only risk our lives and dismiss our families. They shake to the core the public’s faith in the Supreme Court as an impartial institution. This is where my anger comes from. As a scared kid who grew up to become a lawyer, I place much faith in the rule of law, as it is the only shield that stands between us and the tyranny of majority. You take away this shield and the lawyer reverts to a scared school boy. If we cannot trust you and your fellow guardians of the Constitution to lend an impartial ear to a group that you do not favour, our nation is in trouble – deeper than the deficits and more dangerous than foreign terrorists.

Impeaching Scalia for conduct unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice will not happen. Perhaps that is for the best. Who better then Tony to remind us just how vulnerable we are to the whims of the few and the privileges of the many. His words are inspiring a whole generation of gays and lesbians to remain watchful and safeguard the commitment to equality that is the beating heart of our democracy. Although we have made invaluable strides, we must remain vigilant, as our right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness remains on a collision course with ancient hatreds. Our only hope for a lasting protection is to change enough minds and hearts to make Scalias of this world irrelevant.

Ivan is a gay lawyer, practicing in Toronto, Canada. Born and raised in Serbia, he is a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen with a Juris Doctor Degree from University of Ottawa law school. Before starting his own practice, Ivan worked for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, articled at Davies Ward Phillips and Vineberg LLP, a premier corporate law firm, and worked for a well known Toronto immigration and family law firm.