Although gay and lesbian couples can be happily civil unionized in Illinois, that isn’t enough. In late May over two dozen gay and lesbian couples filed a combined lawsuit against the state demanding marriage equality in the state, where marriage is still legally defined as a union between one man and one woman.
This means the fate of gay marriage is once again on the table, like it has been in various states and entire countries over and over again. But unlike the many cases before it, Illinois’ gay marriage debate will include Sophia Hall, a Cook County Circuit Court Judge. Hall is openly gay.
In many cases, fighting for justice means overwhelming or overcoming the people in power, and typically that is because people in power don’t look like you or love like you. Being a member of a marginalized community means having to be louder than people in power, being stronger than people in power, and being more organized than people in power. It means getting in through the back door and knocking everything off the table and saying, “We have finally made it. We are finally here. And you will finally listen.”
Hall’s presence in the Illinois debate, then, is remarkable and, in many ways, unique. Unlike cases before hers, where a bunch of presumably old white, straight, cisgender dudes decided the fate of thousands of gay and lesbian couples looking to have a life together, Hall brings to the table a legacy of out gay activism and advocacy and a more personal perspective on the issue of same-sex marriage: she is a charter member of the Alliance of Illinois Judges, an organization that encompasses LGBT rights, and openly affiliates with The Victory Fund.
Anti-gay activists are upset about Hall’s ability to legislate on an issue previously unlegislated on by those it affects. Professor Rena Lindevaldsen, Associate Dean of the Liberty University School of Law and former defender of an ex-gay kidnapper, called Hall’s sexuality a “conflict of interest”:
“Judge Hall is presiding over a case that seeks to fundamentally alter the meaning of marriage in Illinois. As a Charter Member of the Alliance of Illinois Judges, which is an organization dedicated to LGBT causes, she has an obvious conflict of interest. Pursuant to the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge must disqualify herself in any case where her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” (Rule 63-Cannon 3). If the tables were turned and she was a charter member of an organization that had as its mission to overturn Roe v. Wade and she was presiding over a case where the validity of Roe was in question, there would be incredible outcry to have her removed from the case. Given the significance of the case before her, Judge Hall should take steps to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest, and recuse herself.”
In an Americans for Truth About Homosexuality blog post, Scott Lively, an attorney and founder of Defend the Family International who has encouraged homophobic policies in Uganda, was quoted as saying that nobody could “reasonably expect an open lesbian and member of a ‘gay rights’ advocacy group to be impartial on the issue of ‘gay marriage.'” He said that if Hall had any respect for the judicial system, she would recuse herself. It is now a request being echoed among anti-gays in Illinois and especially Cook County. His quote was followed with “evidence” of her “gay agenda,” embellished in MS Paint.
Because remember – bias is when a gay person rules on gay people. When heterosexual “academics” who work at openly homophobic campuses and base their knowledge and policy opinions in religious texts despite our secular justice system rule on gay people, or even when straight people rule on issues that affect them as straight people — well, that’s just how shit works here. Despite the obvious and flagrant homophobia being espoused in an attempt to, essentially, silence homos in the justice or legal system at-large piece-by-piece, what is most disturbing about the invented “controversy” over Hall’s sexuality is that it represents a larger belief present in American society: the belief that only those who have historically been granted power and privilege deserve a voice, or are able to correctly judge on issues that affect marginalized communities.
It is not the first time a homophobe has asserted that gay people don’t know what’s best for the country, or that they are unable to legislate on gay issues because they represent an opinion vastly different than the rampant homophobia of our culture at-large. When the issue came up during Prop 8 regarding Vaughn Walker’s sexuality, California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals called calls for recuse “dangerous” and warned that to set a precedent of refusing gay people a seat at the gay decisions table would be harmful and wrong. This is no different. “If the suggestion is that Judge Hall cannot, based on mere assertion, decide this case fairly and based upon the law, we simply disagree,” said Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at ACLU of Illinois in an email to On Top Magazine. “Judge Hall has an excellent reputation as a careful jurist.”