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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to Gain Lesbian Justice?

Barbara Lenk
Barbara Lenk
By Kilian Melloy -

The court that won what may be the most important civil rights case in modern times is poised to see an openly lesbian jurist ascend to its bench.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court--the body that ruled in 2003 that gay and lesbian families must be allowed marriage parity under that state’s constitution, thus paving the way for the nation’s first legal same-sex weddings in 2004--will soon have a vacancy. On April 4, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick nominated openly lesbian judge Barbara A. Lenk, 60, for the spot on the bench in what Patrick called "A nice coincidence and a happy one," given that Lenk was able to marry her same-sex life partner as a result of the court’s historic ruling.

"But first and foremost, this is a very well prepared and highly qualified candidate," Patrick added, the Boston Globe reported on March 5.

"As a judge, my only allegiance is to the rule of law and to fair and equal treatment of all who come before the court," said Lenk, a Harvard Law School graduate who also possesses a Ph.D. from Yale. Lenk has long experience as a judge, having served in that capacity for 17 years, the article noted.

"I never expected to be standing here, but the fact that I am shows that my story is the American story, where anything is possible," added Lenk, who grew up poor, the daughter of Polish immigrants.

This is not Lenk’s first flirtation with the state’s highest court. The article noted that she had applied for the job in 1996, and again in 1999, when she made the short list.

Lenk has garnered high praise from her colleagues and peers, and she in turn praised the SJC as the entity that made it possible for her to marry her wife.

"But it’s not the only decision that has had an impact on my life, or my life as a citizen, or the citizens of the Commonwealth," added the jurist.

Associate Justice Judith Cowin is stepping down from the bench this month to enter retirement.

Since Massachusetts became the first state seven years ago to grant gay and lesbian families marriage equality, six other states have followed suit. Voters in two of those states--California and Maine--rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples at the ballot box.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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