WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first Supreme Court member to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony Saturday when she officiates at the Washington wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser.
Such marriages were virtually unheard of a little more than a decade ago but now are legal in the nation’s capital, 13 states and in all or part of 17 other countries. After victories at the Supreme Court earlier this summer, a wave of litigation is challenging bans on same-sex marriages in states where they remain prohibited.
Ginsburg seemed excited during a recent interview about being the first member of the court to conduct such a ceremony and said it was only a logical next step.
“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg said.
She added: “It won’t be long before there will be another” performed by a justice. Indeed, she has another planned for September.
Ginsburg and Kaiser are close friends. She is perhaps the Supreme Court’s most ardent supporter of the fine arts, especially opera. Kaiser has been at the helm of the Kennedy Center since 2001 and is an internationally recognized expert in arts management and one of Washington’s most civic influential leaders.
“I can’t imagine someone I’d rather be married by” than Ginsburg, Kaiser said in an interview.
Roberts, who works at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is not related to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. At the time that save-the-date cards were sent out this spring, there were jokes involving the coincidence of the names.
Earlier this summer, Ginsburg was in the majority in a pair of major gay rights victories at the Supreme Court. The court said the federal government may not refuse to recognize legally married gay couples and reinstated a lower court ruling that found California’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.
The chief justice was in the minority that would have upheld the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which said the federal government would recognize marriages only between a man and woman.
The Supreme Court’s decisions in June had no effect on the marriage plans of Kaiser and Roberts because same-sex unions have been legal in Washington since 2010.
Kaiser and Roberts are scheduled to be married in the Kennedy Center atrium Saturday night before 220 guests. Invited are stars of opera (Renee Fleming, Harolyn Blackwell), from Broadway (Ron Raines, Barbara Cook) and an array of some of Washington’s most influential philanthropic and arts patrons, such as Richard and Betsy DeVos, Catherine and Wayne Reynolds and Jacqueline Mars.
It is not uncommon for Supreme Court justices to officiate at weddings, most often for former law clerks or close friends or relatives. Ginsburg tied the knot for her son, for instance. Justice Clarence Thomas performed a ceremony for radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Ginsburg said she thought she and her colleagues had not been asked previously to conduct a same-sex ceremony for fear it might compromise their ability to hear the issue when it came before the court.
The ceremony will be another high-profile moment for Ginsburg, who turned 80 this year and last month marked her 20th year on the court.
With the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens in 2010, Ginsburg became the senior justice among the court’s four liberals and has embraced the role. When they are in the minority on important decisions, Ginsburg has urged fellow Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to unite behind a single dissenting opinion.
And despite her more prominent role on the court, the question she has been asked most frequently this summer is when she plans to leave. Several liberal commentators have suggested she retire in time for President Obama to nominate her successor.
But Ginsburg said she has no plans to leave anytime soon.
“All I can say is what I’ve already said: At my age, you take it year by year,” she said.