Last week, the Supreme Court decided to take up a pair of cases related to gay marriage, cases that will for the first time determine the constitutionality of laws denying marriage rights to same-sex couples. As a member of the nation’s highest court for the past 21 years, I can remember few rulings of such consequence as these two, which will affect the lives of so many people. So as the time approaches, I ask all Americans to think long and hard on what these decisions will mean for the future of our nation, and also think long and hard about the fact that I, Clarence Thomas, will get to determine whether gay people can marry each other.
That’s right, me: an embarrassingly undistinguished justice with a history of ethical misconduct who hasn’t spoken during an oral argument in almost seven years. I get to rule on whether gay people should have basic human rights.
Pretty crazy, right? I’m one of only nine Americans in a position to decide, in a matter of months, whether our democracy values the right of a group of human beings to get married.
Now, if you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around that one, you’re not alone. If you had told me in 1991 that I would one day have the power to decide the basic rights of millions of people, I would have laughed in your face. Back then, I was a 43-year-old appeals court judge with a flimsy record on civil rights and abortion who thought affirmative action was a form of “social engineering”—not exactly the kinds of views you’d expect in a jurist destined for the Supreme Court.
Yet lo and behold, that same year, despite accusations that I sexually harassed attorney Anita Hill, my appointment to replace retired justice Thurgood Marshall was confirmed. Soon enough, I was abstaining from oral arguments for years at a time and failing to disclose my wife’s sources of income.
I’ve spoken maybe two times in the past decade, for Christ’s sake. Think about that. That’s hundreds and hundreds of cases during which I’ve sat silently and twiddled my thumbs as my colleagues actively interrogated lawyers and posed tough questions about the scope and applications of laws—cases to which I barely paid attention, sometimes appearing to nap on the bench. And I get to have a say in deciding on a constitutional level whether or not all adult members of the human race have the right to recognize their unions? That historic judgment falls on my shoulders?
I’m not trying to belabor the point here. I just want you all to be fully aware that the future of gay and lesbian citizens in this country comes down to the opinion of nine people, one of whom—me—fell asleep during the inauguration of the first black president and believes states have the right to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant.
Speaking of, here are some other things I believe: felons have the right to bear arms unless the state explicitly forbids it, Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned, corporations and unions should be permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, and those campaigns should not be required to disclose donors.
Oh, and in 2003 I dissented in the court’s decision to strike down a Texas law prohibiting homosexual acts.
Yet in six months, in the year 2013, I’ll have the opportunity to decide whether hospitals can legally bar gay people from visiting their loved ones.
Take a second and think about the gay people in your life. Your best friend, your mom, your dad, your teacher, your coworker, your partner, you. I get to decide whether these people face institutional discrimination. The same goes for bisexual people, transgender people, and anyone else whose right to marry may be prohibited at the state or federal level. They are all searching for happiness, and their happiness all depends on the opinion of a man who once asked if someone put pubic hair on his Coke.
You want to hear something even weirder? Antonin Scalia gets to decide all this too.
So before these two judicial decisions are upon us, take a moment to reflect on what they mean for the future of our nation. As the tide of history turns and decisions of tremendous importance reach the highest court in the land, I will be there to judge them. Now, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life.