In the weeks after the announcement that Supreme Court Justice David Souter would retire, one of the most prominent names mentioned as a replacement was Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. Despite the nation's first black female chief justice's "strong" record on gay rights, some gays are criticizing Sears' decision to join a think tank after she retires June 30. The founder of the New York-based Institute for American Values opposes same-sex marriage, according to this interesting albeit uneven report by the AP.
Institute president David Blankenhorn, critics point out, wrote in 2008 that changing the definition of marriage to accommodate gay couples 'definitively undermines' the institution of marriage. Blankenhorn, however, has said he doesn’t oppose Congress supporting civil unions if states can have exceptions allowing religious groups not to accept them.
Jeff Graham, executive director of the gay rights group Georgia Equality, said Sears’ decision to join the Institute for American Values is "something that’s very troubling, concerning and at the very least disappointing to me." State Rep. Karla Drenner, the state’s only openly gay legislator, said she felt "betrayed."
Gay rights groups eagerly backed Sears in 2004 when she faced Grant Brantley, a conservative who earned the endorsements of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and other state GOP leaders. She has also drawn criticism from conservatives for siding with an opinion that overturned the state’s law against sodomy.
Sears is no longer on the short list to replace Souter. The chief justice says she will join IAV to continue her push for reducing unnecessary divorces, an issue she has embraced since becoming chief justice in 2005. There are scholars on both sides of the marriage issue at IAV. Sears will not take a public position on same-sex marriage because it could come before her for judicial review. And rightly so.
I'm taking Justice Leah Ward Sears at her word. Sears overturned Georgia’s law against sodomy and opposed the legislature's ultimately successful attempt to place an anti same-sex marriage amendment on the ballot. Sounds like a friend to me.
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