Congratulations to Justice Edwin Cameron, who has just been appointed a Judge on South Africa's Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country. President Kgalema Motlanthe announced the appointment earlier this week. Until this appointment, Justice Cameron sat on the country's Supreme Court of Appeal, which was the highest court for all non-constitutional matters.
An Openly Gay Judge to Sit on South Africa's Highest Court
South Africa's constitution includes a provision requiring equality on the basis of sexual orientation, which resulted in the Constitutional Court ruling in 2005 in the Fourie case that the ban on marriage for same-sex couples violated the country's constitution.
With this appointment, Justice Cameron becomes the first openly gay person ever appointed to a country's highest court. He also openly lives with HIV/AIDS. Justice Michael Kirby, an openly gay man, was appointed to Australia's Highest Court in 1996, but he was not out at the time. He came out in 1999, when he included the name of his life partner in his bio in Who's Who in Australia. Justice Kirby will retire on February 2, so for this month only the world has two openly gay highest court justices.
Edwin Cameron was an anti-apartheid lawyer. He was appointed to the High Court of Appeal by Nelson Mandela. He was a co-editor of Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa. In other words, he wasn't just a gay person, but a gay activist before Mandela appointed him as a judge.
Can you imagine such an appointment in the United States? Don't hold your breath. As far as I know there has only been one openly gay person appointed to any federal court judgeship, and that is Deborah Batts, appointed by Bill Clinton in 1994 when he still had a Democratic Congress. She sits on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. While we can hope that President Obama will give Judge Batts some openly gay company, I'm not counting on an openly gay justice of the US Supreme Court in my lifetime.