Openly gay SJC nominee vilified by detractors, praised by supporters at confirmation hearing

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By: Chuck Clbert/TRT Reporter
April 28, 2011
If a majority of eight members on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council approve her nomination to the Supreme Judicial Court, Barbara A. Lenk, will make history as the first openly gay justice to serve on the state’s highest court.

Yesterday, April 27, on Beacon Hill both supporters and detractors of Lenk – and the nominee herself, currently an appellate judge – had their say during an lengthy confirmation hearing.

At times the more than seven hours of testimony seemed surreal, as two sharply contrasting points of view about homosexuality were articulated over the course of the day-long proceedings.

For supporters, Lenk’s being gay is irrelevant.  Far more important considerations were on their minds – a distinguished legal career, Harvard Law School degree, commitment to public service, and personal attributes of honesty and integrity.

But for detractors, Lenk’s sexual orientation, her “lifestyle,” is reason enough to disqualify her.

The way David Funnell of Commonwealth Covenant Keepers sees it:   Lenk is a dangerous cultural change agent.
During “the last 30 years,” he testified, there has been an “assault against our public institutions by a militant homosexual subculture,” adding, “Any advocate of the agenda of placing personal behavioral choices and bodily pleasures under the rubric of civil rights has betrayed” basic morality.

Apparently, Lenk is one such militant gay-rights activist, according to Funnell.

For another opponent, Tom Haskins, “[Lenk] is dangerous to our society because she removes from us the safety of the rule of law with an oligarchy by the title of judges.”

And he testified, “She openly and boldly opposes traditional family values that made us free, wealthy, and great.”

According to Haskins, “Justice Lenk is part of the problem, not the solution.”

For Sally Naumann, who hales from Carlisle, the same town as Lenk, denying her SJC appointment is all about children.

“Do we need yet another appointment that will be used as a weapon to promote and push a disastrous homosexual agenda onto our impressionable youth?” she said.  “This is exactly what the elevation  of an openly lesbian judge to theMassachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [SJC] will do?”

As Naumann testified, “By elevating Barbara Lenk to the [SJC], you will be validating same-gender sexual conduct and gay marriage.  This will be a clarion call to all of those who want to draw vulnerable children into the gay lifestyle.”

But Councilor Thomas T. Merrigan of Greenville, an attorney, had enough.

“You have not said one single word about her qualifications as an attorney, experience as a judge, the quality of her judicial experience or capacity,” he said.

“Is it your view that her sexual orientation alone should disqualify her from this appointment?”

“My feeling was that this was why she was appointed?” Naumann replied.

Merrigan pressed further, again with the same question.

“I guess, I guess, in this case, yes, because it is such a prominent feature,” Naumann answered.  “I am concerned about the kids.”

While acknowledging her right to express a point of view, Councilor Terrence W. Kennedy of Lynnfield, an attorney, took strong exception to Naumann’s  testimony.

It is “nothing more than prejudice and bigotry,” he said. “I can’t just let it sit here.”  Lenk’s sexual orientation, he added, would have no bearing on his decision to confirm or deny the appointment.

Meanwhile, Lenk’s supporters offered an entirely different assessment of her ability to administer justice impartially.

The Boston Bar Association, for instance, found no evidence of militant advocacy.

“A review of Justice Lenk’s numerous decisions shows that she has no agenda other than the fair administration of justice and adherence to legal precedent,” the 9,800- member organization said in a written statement, adding, Lenk would bring to the court “exemplary judicial temperament, characterized by humility, wisdom, balance, and respect for all who come before her.”

The Rev. Mary Redner Robinson, director of pastor care/chaplaincy, at Children’s Hospital, testified that Justice Lenk, the mother of two teenage daughters, would bring “family values, respect, and dedication” to the court, adding, “She is utterly trustworthy.”

Another supporter, attorney Jennifer L. Conrad, testified on behalf of small group of former law clerks. She spoke of Lenk’s careful mentorship of them throughout their yearlong appellate-court apprenticeships.

And yet Justice Lenk’s own words before the Governor’s Council perhaps speak best for an affirmative vote to confirm her nomination.

“I will never take for granted that each case before me, no matter how technical the legal issue may seem, involves real people with real problems who look to the court to resolve them,” she said.

For Lenk, four principles guide her decision making from the bench, she said, “Hear courteously; answer wisely; consider soberly; decide impartially.”

A vote to confirm Lenk’s nomination could come as early as next Wednesday, May 4.