Justice Joyce Kennard
Kicking back in a comfortable, high-backed chair in her chambers earlier this week, California Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard was at ease talking about the life experiences that probably shaped her thoughts on same-sex marriage (see the full article on our converation with her at Cal Law).
The 67-year-old was one of four justices who formed the majority in the May 15 ruling, and while she says she adhered to the law in reaching her decision, it was apparent that personal run-ins with discrimination over the years left an imprint.
Kennard retold a stirring story Tuesday about being lumped in as one of the native kids — she is Dutch, Indonesian and Chinese — while living with her mother in segregated housing in New Guinea. And she recalls her mom having to shop at two Chinese-run stores, while Holland-born employees of her Dutch employer got to buy imported items from another store.
Even after having been in the United States for years, Kennard said, she and her late husband, Robert, discovered that their first house in Southern California contained an old covenant that allowed only Caucasians to live there.
The covenant no longer carried any legal weight, Kennard said, and wouldn’t have affected her white husband at any rate. “But if it had been the law, I couldn’t have lived in the house. I could have,” she added with a laugh, “been the maid.”
Nonetheless, Kennard said she doesn’t pre-judge any arguments and held true to that position even as conservative forces insisted that allowing same-sex marriages would lead to the approval of polygamist or incestuous marriages. Even bestiality.
“I never think an argument to be outrageous or silly,” she said. “That would be a lack of tolerance.” Instead, she said she evaluates each argument on its merit.
“You have to think about it before coming up with an answer,” she added.
Kennard has gotten her share of letters congratulating her on being in the 4-3 majority last month. One such letter called her a “hero” and credited her with helping make a life decision.
“You are to be admired,” the writer said, “and moments like this ruling reaffirm my desire to go into law following my undergraduate studies.”
Now Legal Pad must ask, though. Is that a blessing or a curse?
— Mike McKee