THE NOMINATION of Judge Barbara A. Lenk to the Supreme Judicial Court should not be a referendum on gay marriage. It should be an orderly vetting of a jurist with an 18-year track record. But Wednesday’s confirmation hearing before the eight-member Governor’s Council dwelt uncomfortably on the nominee’s sexual orientation, even when the topic was ostensibly a court case or conflict of interest.
This is partly because Lenk is the first openly gay nominee to the state’s highest court, and because Governor Patrick, in response to a reporter’s question, praised her as a pioneer. Lenk is the third consecutive Patrick nominee to be a first: Roderick Ireland was the first black chief justice, and Fernande Duffly the first Asian-American on the court.
But the criticism that followed Lenk’s nomination, accusing Patrick of playing identity politics, didn’t follow the others. Perhaps it was accumulating frustration. Perhaps it was a sense that gays, unlike blacks or Asian-Americans, are an acceptable target of derision. Either way, the criticism was misplaced. Patrick did not draw attention to Lenk’s sexual orientation; rather, it was Lenk’s chief critic, Governor’s Council member Charles Cipollini of Fall River, who sought to make issues of her sexuality and whether Patrick chose her for political reasons.
Cipollini has brought an element of surprise to the council’s once predictable hearings, and nominees should now expect tough questioning. No doubt Lenk’s family — her wife and two teenage daughters — were prepared for the worst, and got it when a fellow Carlisle resident, Sally Naumann, testified that Lenk’s nomination would be “a clarion call to all that want to indoctrinate our children into homosexuality.’’
The Governor’s Council didn’t need to hear that: No one seized the chance to inveigh against blacks or Asians at Ireland’s and Duffly’s confirmation hearings. Thankfully, many council members declared they would not give credence to statements like Naumann’s. And they should not.