Judge who made marriage history officiates at his lesbian daughter’s wedding

Twenty years ago, Justice Steven Levinson made history while serving on the Hawaii Supreme Court: He authored the opinion in Baehr v. Miike, the first appellate court decision in global history to find that a state constitution presumptively prohibited marriage discrimination for same-sex couples. In the opinion, Justice Levinson wrote that denying marriage to same-sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the Hawaii Constitution, and that if the state could not show sufficient justification for its denial of the freedom to marry, the ban on same-sex couples marrying would be overturned.

That ruling was in 1993 - and it's often credited with kickstarting the movement to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide, which has now built majority support, achieved victory in 13 states and Washington, D.C., and celebrated an important crack in federal marriage discrimination. It also, of course, ignited opponents of the freedom to marry to attempt a backlash in both Hawaii and at the federal level. Shortly after the ruling, More sweepingly, marriage opponents in the U.S. Congress pushed through approval for the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal protections to legally married same-sex couples. The twenty years since the Baehr ruling have been unprecedented for a social movement, but Levinson is proud to have been a part of these early days. It's long been his dream to see the freedom to marry nationwide. 

It's also been a longtime dream of his to officiate at the wedding ceremony of his daughter Jen, who came out to him as gay just a year and a half after he filed his opinions in Baehr.

Jen, a college student home for winter break, asked her dad one night if she could accompany him on a drive.

"She had been making small talk, and at the end of our drive, I turned to her and said, 'So, what do you want to talk about?,' Levinson said. "She asked me a one-sentence question that took her two minutes to deliver. She said: 'How would you feel if I were to tell you that I was more attracted to women than men?' And when that question mark got put on the end of that sentence, I said to her, 'See - that wasn't so hard, was it?'"

Ever since that conversation, Levinson has dreamt of officiating her wedding to a woman. He wanted to serve as the officiant for the first-ever wedding between an American same-sex couple, and he wanted to do so in Hawaii for his daughter nearly two decades ago, before Hawaii's anti-marriage amendment passed in 1998. "It would have been pretty neat to perform the first same-sex marriage in America," he said.

This summer, Justice Steven Levinson fulfilled his personal dream of officiating at the wedding ceremony of his daughter in San Francisco, California. Jen and her wife Patty have been together for over five years.

The ceremony, held on July 20, included 40 close friends and family members and blended the couple's family religious traditions. "Jen and Patty stepped on a glass in the Jewish fashion, and Patty's Catholic parents designed the chuppa under which Jen and Patty stood," Levinson said.

The women began planning their ceremony months before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and restored marriage in California, but it was a pleasant surprise to finally have the freedom to marry where they live.

As Levinson officiated his daughter's ceremony, he thought back to that conversation back in the car with Jen and his landmark ruling in favor of marriage back in 1993. He also looks forward to the day when same-sex couples can marry in Hawaii as he works closely with Hawaii United for Marriage on passing a marriage bill through the HI legislature this year. 

Someday soon, he even hopes to relive his dream of officiating at Jen's wedding by marrying her and Patty right in Hawaii. " I'll marry them in Hawaii sometime in the future!," he said, smiling at the possibility that soon, the ruling he authored 20 years ago may finally be able to take effect. 

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. Help us celebrate by sharing this story with your own friends and family members. And check out other pieces to celebrate National Coming Out Day.