Richard Socarides On Justice Scalia’s NY Mag Interview And The Progress of LGBT Rights


As we reported earlier this week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia sat down with New York Magazine's Jennifer Senior recently for a wide-ranging interview that was filled with, well, exactly what you'd expect from a man known for his fiery dissents and come-at-me public persona.

Aside from a somewhat baffling and wild exchange about the devil (he's out there, according to Scalia, and he's decided to take on a lower profile compared to those stories you've read about in the Bible as a tactic), the justice raised some eyebrows when he told Senior that he doesn't know anybody who's openly gay.  "I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual," he admitted to her. "Everybody does."

Scalia–as his New York Magazine interview makes patently clear, is a devout Catholic.  But as LGBT rights advocate Richard Socarides, writing in the New Yorker, points out, that very faith is currently experiencing a self-evaluation of its approach towards sexual orientation in the highest echelons of its power structure:

The most breathtaking development since the Supreme Court’s rulings on marriage rights, three and a half months ago, and the one with obvious global impact, was Pope Francis’ basic acceptance of gay people within the context of Roman Catholic theology—“Who am I to judge?”—signaling a turning point of historic proportions. A Quinnipiac poll late last week showed that American Catholics approve of the Pope’s new approach by a margin of sixty-eight per cent to twenty-three per cent. No doubt the dramatic progress we have seen in the U.S. impacted the Pope’s thinking.

Shortly after the Pope said that it was time to end the church’s focus on demonizing gay people (and its “obsession” with issues like abortion and contraception), Andrew Solomon, a longtime gay-rights advocate and the author of “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” told me in an e-mail, “The primary obstacle to gay rights—and indeed to various forms of human rights—is prejudice and bigotry that have been encoded in religion.” Solomon believes, as many do, that “the Catholic Church was long set up as our most vigorous enemy, and it’s to be hoped, very profoundly, that this change in position will filter down through the Catholic hierarchy and make religion once more the champion of loving-kindness, and no longer the instrument of oppression.”

Even Scalia felt the effect, though he argued that it was a matter of emphasis, not doctrinal change: “He’s the Vicar of Christ. He’s the chief. I don’t run down the pope.”

Socarides points out the significance of such a shift–even if it is only in the tone of the church's position–and underscores its ability to have a lasting impact. Earlier this year, the association of American bishops wrote in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court that equal marriage rights for same-sex couples "would compromise the ability of states to accommodate religious and moral objections to homosexual conduct on the part of employers and individuals." As Socarides pithily puts it, "So much for that."

Senior's interview with Justice Scalia reveals a man happily inhabiting a island of conservative thought that seems far removed from today's reality–it's incredible that he could live in our nation's capital in 2013 and know zero gay people personally.  But Socarides's point is a good one: as Scalia stands firm, history–and the very institution responsible in many ways for his opinions about LGBT people–continues to shift around him.

(photo courtesy of Platon for New York Magazine)


  1. Jonathan says

    Scalia knows gay people. He knows he knows gay people. He just doesn’t know which people he knows are gay. What does it say about him as a man in this day and age that not one of the people who inhabit his orbit feel either comfortable enough with him or close enough to him to share that part of their lives? This interview and profile paint a portrait of an extraordinarily lonely man isolated by his position, principles and hubris.

  2. Geoff says

    Religionists are, by their very definition, liars – willing to accept and promulgate the most outrageous lies in existence…no matter how batshit or loony. I really don’t trust anything Scalia (an avowed Roman-Catholic)says. Doubtless he knows tons of self-loathing, closet-cases. The fact remains that his lies define the very core of his being. If one is able to accept “The Devil” as real – simply means he is crazy…and is to be avoided at all cost. He certainly doesn’t have any self-respecting gay friends. Please.

  3. says

    1 in 10 people are gay and he doesn’t know any gay people. The people he knows must be less than the digits on his hands. A more realistic possibility is that he avoid gays when selecting friends around him. And of course, ignoring the fact that at least one his children or grandchildren is gay.

  4. Beebs says

    Animal lust verses some fairy tale religion. Gays love to hate best, they’ve been marinated in it. That why it’s entertaining when it’s in their own face. Scalia is a real person. God, ghosts and the Devil are debatable.

  5. PAUL B. says

    His own son is a closet case I’m sure….so scalia, look around your own dinner table for your token gay. Jonathan said it all and I say “ditto”. On a personal note…scalia & my dad are cut from the same mold and I know first hand what loneliness, isolation and arrogance,
    as a result of ideology, can do to a person. I get to enjoy the holidays with it year after year. Oy-vey!

  6. David From Canada says

    Scalia is the American Supreme Court’s loose cannon and its biggest embarrassment.
    He loves to hear himself talk, not realizing that many people are just not that interested in all his opinions and wish that he would keep a much lower profile.

  7. Johnnybegood says

    I just subjected myself to that interview from start to finish. He’s quite laughable really. He’s figured it all out…even his own contradictions make perfect sense to him. Let’s see, what do that call that…narcissism I think.

  8. Beebs says

    He disagrees. That’s why you can’t stand him. There are many more narcissisists on Towle Road believe me.

  9. Topol says

    Scalia can’t be that smart and claim he doesn’t know any out gay people. That’s ridiculous.

    His faith, by the way, should not matter in his rulings. That’s the problem I have with him: he rules and thinks according to traditional Roman Catholic teachings. That’s bad enough when it’s done on the Supreme Court of the U.S., but he’s also arrogant, prideful, and unkind, which contradicts traditional Catholic teachings.

  10. says

    Scalia is just another ‘ spoiled priest’… was what he should have become……a total believer in his own righteousness.

    Ah well, at least he did for his son:
    “They screw you up, your Mom and Dad……”

    Lowell was right about you Scalia.

  11. Paul B. says

    No, I can’t stand him because he reminds me of my father…another loud mouth nasty poop hole.

  12. Pissed says

    Piss off? What country did you borrow that from? And Paul. Every queen’s nightmare can be their father, but don’t let that one get around.

  13. Francis #1 says

    We’re praising a Pope who just had a gay-friendly priest ex-communicated. Why do we keep falling for it, it’s as if the church has become pro-equality, which we know is not the case. Apparently, from orders by the Pope, a gay exhibit at the Vatican was shut down. Religion is the issue. We cannot progress as far as we should, we deserve, as long as mainstream organized religion continues to be as anti-gay as it is.

  14. Craig Nelson says

    I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I think that Scalia was so irate in his opinion on DOMA that he senses things slipping away from him and was perhaps aware that the DOMA ruling was his last chance to say something in a ruling. So long as a Democrat in the White House I think that the 5 member majority will turn down successful cases in lower courts, allowing circuit by circuit progress, which will allow some states to get there under their own steam, via courts, legislature or ballot. By the time that’s played out there won’t be much to give a judgment about.

    I think he knew that was going to happen at the time of the DOMA ruling hence why he was so cranky and felt he had to get it all out of his system.

    My view is this: Kennedy’s trilogy is now complete. I think there isn’t going to be another major ruling – the three taken together will do the job. I think that Scalia knows this too.

  15. bravo says

    People misunderstand “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

    This was said in answer to a question about gay priests and the church’s restriction of gay men from entering the priesthood.

    There is absolutely NO hint that the church would change its position that ALL sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin. While I love both Socarides and Solomon, they are wrong re. Roman Catholicism and tolerance of same-sex sexual activity. It is always and everywhere sinful. It can never not be sinful.

    ALL gay men and women are called to a life of chastity. Among gay priests, who already have made a vow of chastity, the pope is willing to suspend judgment on those who search for the Lord and have good will.

    This is Roman Catholicism, folks, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Saecula saeculorum. Amen…

  16. C. Foley says

    “… and make religion once more the champion of loving-kindness, and no longer the instrument of oppression.” What planet has Socarides been living on where that’s ever been true? Oppression is in the book at the very heart of the religion, and that oppression has played out through history. Maybe this would be true if you picked a different religion, but certainly not Christianity.

  17. Zack says

    Craig,the problem is some states with marriage bans will rule that they violate the 5th and 14th amendments and others won’t.
    The courts punted on Prop 8 but the next time a case reaches them,it WILL have standing.
    Thus,there will be one more ruling to do but with the way DOMA was struck down,there really won’t be any way the court can avoid (though the bigots will try) the fact these bans are unequal.

  18. Observer says

    I know two former Scalia who are gay and he knows they are So in addition to being a right wing kook, he is also a liar.

  19. Observer says

    Corrected post
    I know two former Scalia law clerks who are gay and he knows it. So in addition to being a right wing kook, he is a liar.

  20. says

    The “Ozzie and Harriet” world never really existed did it? A buddy of mine had a gay uncle that blew his brains out back in the 1960’s because he was so demonized by society back then. Can you imagine? We have come a long way but there is still so much to do. Scalia needs to retire to the nearest golf course. It is so scary that a person like him can make decisions that affect our lives. AND! His son needs to come out of the closet! I HOPE poor Fr. Scalia will before he goes to the grave… I cannot imagine living a lie my entire life. It was bad enough coming out at 30.

  21. Mike says

    Would everybody PLEASE stop implying that blustery and cranky Justice Antonin Scalia is smart. HE IS NOT. At most, he has been able to posture himself as pseudo smart to impress a few others like the “Bedtime For Bonzo” actor who appointed him. Over time he has kept up and even encouraged this ridiculous facade. Now EVEN a few super conservatives are starting to turn away! He is bound to a different time in the BLOOD SMEARED past and an implausible legacy for the future that exist ONLY in his fevered imagination! (He would REALLY have fit in leading some of the more extravagant and depraved tortures of the so called HOLY INQUISITION!) Scalia is just a bitter and lonely old man convinced of his own righteous superiority. An old lion who upon losing his pride fairly ineffectually roars and castigates others PARTICULARLY GAYS who he SOMEHOW sees as inferior. For the most part quite the reverse is true! There are horrible diseases more intelligent then him which somehow seems right . . .

  22. DannyEastVillage says

    Scalia’s religious talk is the blather of the person who got religion as a teenager and never gave anything he actually believes a moment’s thought or reflection–must less critical appraisal–ever since. It’s essentially the religious viewpoint of a child.

  23. DannyEastVillage says

    Francis #1, the story of the priest in Australia is longer and more complex than that. I don’t defend by any stretch the doings of the Vatican, and this pope has a long row to hoe to change my opinion of the Vatican bureaucracy and way of doing things. But let’s don’t make the mistake of defending a person of questionable judgement and stability just because he’s gay-friendly: even a broken clock is right twice a day.

  24. Jack M says

    It’s hilarious to hear him refer to Satan as a person, when the Bible clearly identifies him as an angel whom God cast out of Heaven. So I guess Justice Scalia doesn’t even read the Bible. What a pinhead.

  25. Bill says

    Don’t fight him by arguing back or dissecting his ignorant pronouncements – loser’s game. Fight him by electing a Democrat in 2016. With eight more years we can turn the tide of the court for at least a generation. Fortunately the Republicans are practically handing it to us. Even in the midst of so many insanities the opportunity to really change America is at hand. Let’s make it so.

  26. mike/ says

    by taking positions other than the leader of his church, Pope Francis, is cannot be considered a ‘devout’ catholic. it’s antithesis to the meaning of papal authority. at the least he is actually a ‘fallen’ catholic, at the worst he is excommunicable. in what circle of hell will Scalia end up?

  27. babh says

    How do people interpret the phrase “I have friends that I know … are homosexual” to mean that he doesn’t know any gay people?

    He is clearly saying that he has some friends who are gay, and some friends that he suspects are gay. Just like “everyone does.”

    [This is not to defend the man’s philosophy, jurisprudence, or basic human decency in any way.]

  28. Jonathan says

    @BABH the entire context of his comments about personal reliationships with gay people:

    “I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change.

    “I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.”

    “Have any of them come out to you?

    “No. No. Not that I know of.”

    This says to me pretty clearly that anyone in his orbit who might happen to be gay has explicitly not shared any part of their romantic life with him.

  29. Lock says

    Firstly he claims not to know any openly gay people frankly and I’m not surprised . Would you really want to introduce this homophobic egotistical pompous windbag to any of your gay friends ?
    Secondly if your religion impinges on your ability to make impartial decisions then change your religion or change your job!

  30. BABH says

    @Jonathan: I suspect that you are not a lawyer. Scalia seems to me to be answering very precisely the questions that are asked. He is saying: “Yes, I have openly gay friends,” but “No, no-one has ever had a coming-out moment by saying to me ‘I’m gay’.”

    As someone pointed out above, Scalia has had several openly gay clerks.