When the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments for and against the constitutionality of DOMA this March, Chief Justice John Roberts probably noticed a familiar face in the crowd — his openly gay cousin, Jean Podrasky.
At the time, Podrasky found the arguments difficult to hear, and a little nerve-racking, no doubt in part because Podrasky was engaged to be married to her partner, and stuck in limbo until the Court issued its decision on California’s Proposition 8.
Now that the ruling is in, Podrasky says that the magnitude of the ruling overwhelms whatever personal disagreements she has with her cousin, who signed on with the minority view that DOMA should be upheld.
“I am so excited. I am absolutely overwhelmed,” Podrasky told me in a phone interview Wednesday.“I can now get married. I feel like my partner and I have been in limbo for several years. We’ve been engaged for a couple years, but now we can start planning.”
Podrasky says she asked Roberts for tickets to the oral arguments, and he agreed to give them to her. And she feels honored to have been able to attend, even though they turned out to be pretty stressful.
“[T]he oral arguments were a little tough. He [John Roberts] asked some serious questions, especially about changing labels,” Podrasky explained. “The questions were a little disconcerting, to be honest. He also asked a lot of questions about federalism, which was to me concerning.”
At the oral arguments, Roberts compared expanding the institution of marriage to include same-sex couples to requiring one child to claim to be another child’s friend.
“I suppose you can force the child to say ‘this is my friend,'” he said from the bench, “but it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend. And that’s, it seems to me, what [opponents] of Proposition 8 are saying here. All you’re interested in is the label, and you insist on changing the definition of the label.”
Podrasky says she’s just as surprised that Roberts voted to uphold DOMA, as she is that he sided with the majority in throwing out the Prop 8 case on procedural grounds, which had the effect of making gay marriage legal again in California. Roberts’ split means that despite believing the federal government should continue not to recognize same-sex marriages, he helped clear the one obstacle standing in the way of his cousin and her fiancee.
“I was stunned he kind of went one way for us on one of the ruling, and the other way on the DOMA ruling,” she said.
As much as she disagrees with Roberts, Podrasky’s used to this kind of thing.
“I want to say I’m from a very, very big family — I have 12 cousins on both sides of the family,” she says. By that measure, even though he has immense power as Chief Justice, Roberts is just on the other side of a family disagreement. “I want to say that quite a bit of my family on that side are quite conservative and pretty Catholic. We have differences of opinions on many many things, but we are still family.”
“He is about 10 years older than me, so we grew up at different times,” she said. “I tend to see him at family functions. Basically weddings, funerals, celebrations things like that.”
Podrasky expects to tie the knot in the spring of next year. And though she’s extremely grateful to have been given tickets for the oral arguments, she hasn’t decided whether her cousin will get an invite.
“I actually don’t know,” she told me. “I’m certainly inviting family [but] we don’t have our guests lists yet.”