Mass. LGBTQ Bar celebrates openly gay SJC justice, honors retired Chief Justice Margaret Marshall

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By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter
May 13, 2011
Timing is every thing.

And this year’s gathering of gay lawyers came at the end of a historic week, with the confirmation of Barbara A. Lenk as the first openly gay justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Certainly, the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association’s 26th annual dinner drew a large crowd. Four hundred and twenty-five people were on hand for the celebratory occasion, held this yearon Friday evening, May 6, in Boston at the Westin Copley Place.

Perhaps the two legal stars in attendance account for such a big draw. Besides Justice Lenk, who currently serves on the state Appeals Court, the Honorable Margaret H. Marshall, former Chief Justice of the state’s highest court, also attended the dinner.

It was Marshall who penned the landmark 2003 Goodridge decision that gave the legal green light for gay couples to marry in Massachusetts.

On Friday evening Lenk spoke briefly about her April 27 confirmation hearing, a grueling, daylong process where detractors attempted to paint the nominee as activist judge with a hidden homosexual agenda.

Some opponents suggested that Lenk’s sexual orientation alone should disqualify her.

One councillor, Mary-Ellen Manning of Salem, said she did not believe being gay disqualifies a person to be a judge.

In voting against Lenk’s confirmation, Manning described Lenk as a “Trojan horse who will reveal her legal mind inside the walls of the Supreme Judicial Court, far from the public’s grasp,”  Manning was referring  to Lenk’s evasiveness about legal issues during the hearing.

And yet, throughout it all, “I will take away only positive memories” of the process, Lenk said, paying special tribute to the group of former law clerks who testified on her behalf. Their supportive testimony, Lenk said, was “one of the great moments of my professional life.”

“All is well,” she added.  “What [opponents] didn’t count on is that I am of Polish peasant stock. It’s real tough to move me.”

Indeed Lenk enjoyed wide support from the state’s legal establishment, including the Massachusetts, Boston, and Women’s Bar Associations.  The LGBTQ lawyers’ group also lined up to back one of their own. Lenk has been a member for years.

“Justice Lenk is an exemplary jurist and a tremendous asset to the intellectual and legal fabric of our Commonwealth,” said Patience Crozier, co-chair of the gay lawyers group, in a statement applauding Lenk’s confirmation vote on May 4.

At the same time he expressed joy over the vote, co-chair Richard Moore also voiced concerns about bias in the process. “Justice Lenk’s nomination and appointment are cause for great celebration,” he said. “But the sensationalistic anti-gay sentiments displayed by some Governor’s Councilors remind us that equal treatment for LGBTQ people, even by some of our elected officials, is not yet fully a reality.”

But with the confirmation behind her, Justice Lenk’s primary duty on Friday evening was to introduce Marshall, whom the gay bar group honored with a pioneer spirit award.

In acceptance remarks, Marshall spoke briefly about the courage of litigants, lawyers, judges, and citizens “to dare, dream, and discover.”

Often, Marshall said, she hears from law professors who tell her, “I taught your case today,” an obvious reference to Goodridge.

“No,” she said.  “It is the dreams of litigants who have the daring to bring a case where a judge may discover an injustice to be undone.

“It is in the daring of attorneys who dream of justice that the law inches forward. The judges are helped to understand the law in its entirety.

“It is the daring of working together to change laws and to remove barriers to appointments that legislators and governors discover how best they may serve the people.”

At its annual dinner, the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association also honored state Rep. Byron Rushing (D-South End) with a legislator-of-distinction award and Laura K. Langley with a public service award for transgender-rights legal advocacy. Jared P. Milrad, a Northeastern University law student, received a scholarship award.

Dr. Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLESN, delivered the keynote speech, addressing the need for vigilance in making all schools safe for LGBT young people.

In a lighter moment, Superior Court Judge Linda E. “Ginger” Giles presented Justice Lenk with a heavenly “The pen is mightier than the sword” action- figure doll.

“I think I always wanted one of these,” Lenk quipped. “At least it’s not a Trojan horse.”

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Editor’s Note:The quote previously published in our online version from Councillor Mary-Ellen Manning of Salem, MA was not accurate in its context. Although the quote itself was accurate, the context in which it was referred to was not. TRT has corrected such a statement. TRT apologizes for the mistake to Councilor Manning.