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Dear editor:

The committee on the legal rights of lesbians and gay men exists within the Philadelphia Bar Association to address legal issues that are of importance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. As part of its work, the committee considers, investigates and makes recommendations to the Board of Governors on matters relating to the recognition and protection of the legal rights of LGBT people and their families and monitors relevant conditions and trends in the law and the treatment of LGBT people in the legal profession. After thorough deliberation, the committee has determined that it is necessary to write this letter, in order to make a recommendation to the Board of Governors regarding the recent establishment of the Scalia Award.

By press release dated Feb. 23, the bar association announced that nominations were being accepted for the inaugural Justice Antonin Scalia Award for Professional Excellence, to be awarded to a lawyer or judge who has, through his or her life, exhibited the high ideals and commitment to professionalism exemplified by Scalia, recognizing a lifelong record of professional accomplishment, scholarship, reverence for the law and learning, and a yearning for mental engagement and productive discourse, as well as a true spirit of cordiality, good humor and respect for others.

Our committee has discussed the establishment of the Scalia Award at its last two meetings. While the committee appreciates that there are divergent legal and political ideologies that make up the bar association, the committee has had trouble reconciling the existence, work and stated purpose of the committee with the announcement of an award named after Scalia.

The committee is proud of the bar association’s historical commitment to advancing the legal rights of LGBT people and is honored to be a formal part of that commitment. Over the last several years, the bar association has adopted many resolutions supporting the equal rights of LGBT people under the law and has, in a variety of other ways, taken a visible leadership role in fostering equality for our community. The committee was grateful for the recent position taken by Chancellor Gabriel Bevilacqua opposing the anti-LGBT amendments to House Bill 345, proposed by state Rep. Jerry Birmelin. The bar association’s position on these issues has been encouraging and supportive of the legal rights of LGBT people.

It is for this very reason that the committee must express its concern over the naming of the Scalia Award. The committee understands that the Scalia Award is intended to honor a commitment to professionalism, scholarship, respect and cordiality. However, for our community, Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy embodies a strenuous attempt to uphold any and all laws that maintain second-class citizenship for LGBT Americans.

This legacy is most starkly illustrated in Scalia’s recent dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, which is commonly viewed as the most important legal decision in the history of the United States regarding the legal rights of LGBT people. That dissent, far from exhibiting professionalism, respect and cordiality, instead compared the sexual behavior of LGBT people with prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity and child pornography and assailed the majority for having “sign[ed] on to the so-called homosexual agenda.” This is the Scalia legacy, as understood by our community, and it is this legacy that the public could take to be the reason behind the bar association’s honor.

While Scalia is noted for his conservative views, including those on the legal rights of LGBT people, we do not believe that this alone should serve as any sort of litmus test to preclude someone from being honored through an award in his or her name by the bar association, and we do not intend to suggest that the bar association should only grant awards in the names of those people who support the legal rights of LGBT people.

The committee is, however, concerned that this award could be taken as an endorsement by the bar association of Scalia’s views on LGBT issues. Such a perceived endorsement is contrary to the public positions of the bar association and the purposes of this committee.

We recommend that the bar association clarify its message by formally distinguishing the position of Scalia on the legal rights of LGBT people from the Scalia Award and by reaffirming the dedication of the association to equal rights for LGBT citizens. Such a formal clarification would help ensure that lending Scalia’s name to this award does not tarnish the bar association’s record of support for equal rights.

We wish to make clear that this letter should in no way be seen as a position by the committee that any recipient of the Scalia Award is somehow unworthy of recognition by the bar association or that such recipient is seen as “unfriendly” by the committee to LGBT people. We are pleased with the selection of this year’s recipient and wish him congratulations on being recognized for his skill and commitment by the bar association.

The committee hopes that you will carefully consider its concerns and this recommendation and that the Board of Governors will take the steps necessary to ensure that an award given in the name of Scalia is readily distinguished from the views of Scalia on the legal rights of lesbians and gay men.

Leonore F. Carpenter

Keith E. Armstrong


Committee on the legal rights of lesbians and gay men Philadelphia Bar Association

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