Americans are prepared to accept a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, pointing to what she described as a sweeping change in attitudes toward gays.
In an interview Wednesday in the court’s oak-paneled east conference room, Ginsburg also said President Barack Obama’s health-care law, which is under attack in a case before the Supreme Court next month, will be a central part of his legacy.
The 81-year-old justice discussed the public’s increasing acceptance of gays against the backdrop of resistance by Alabama officials to a federal court order that took effect Monday and made it the 37th gay-marriage state. With the high court set to rule on the issue by June, she said it “would not take a large adjustment” for Americans should the justices say that gay marriage is a constitutional right.
“The change in people’s attitudes on that issue has been enormous,” Ginsburg said. “In recent years, people have said, ‘This is the way I am.’ And others looked around, and we discovered it’s our next-door neighbor -- we’re very fond of them. Or it’s our child’s best friend, or even our child. I think that as more and more people came out and said that ‘this is who I am,’ the rest of us recognized that they are one of us.”
The number of gay-marriage states has soared in recent years, largely because of court rulings. Only 12 states permitted such unions in June 2013, when the Supreme Court threw out part of a law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The majority’s reasoning in that case prompted lower courts to strike down bans on gay marriage.
Ginsburg joined the majority in that case. Later that year, she became the first Supreme Court justice to officiate at a same-sex wedding, in Washington.
Obama came out in favor of gay weddings in 2012, and he told BuzzFeed News Tuesday that he expects the court will agree.
“Same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else” under the equal protection clause of the Constitution, the president said.
Ginsburg said she met Obama soon after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. Her son, James, had worked on Obama’s campaign, and Ginsburg asked to be seated next to him when the justices held their traditional dinner for new members of the Senate.
“There was a rapport from the start between us,” said Ginsburg, who receives a hug from the president every year as he walks to the podium to deliver his State of the Union address.
The high court upheld Obama’s health-care law in 2012, only to agree to hear a new challenge during the current nine-month term. The latest dispute seeks to gut the law by barring people in most of the country from receiving the tax credits designed to make insurance affordable.
Asked about the president’s legacy, Ginsburg pointed to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which she voted to uphold in the 2012 case.
“Our country was just about the only Western industrialized country that didn’t have universal health care for all of the people, and he made the first giant step in that direction,” she said. “That’s certainly one of the things he will be remembered for.”
Ginsburg declined to speak directly about the new health-care case, set for argument March 4.
Ginsburg, the oldest justice and a two-time cancer survivor, said she has no plans to retire.
“I think I should do this job as long as I can do it full steam,” she said. “When I begin to slow down, I think I will know. It hasn’t happened yet.”