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Elena Kagan: Not Gay After All?

A few weeks back, in a post titled “Elena Kagan Lesbian Rumor Smear Neither Smear Nor Rumor,” I weighed in on the kerfuffle surrounding Ben Domenech’s “outing” of the then-prospective Supreme Court nominee as gay.   The essence of the piece is that, according to several credible accounts, Kagan was widely known in both Cambridge and Washington as having a female partner and, really, what was the fuss all about?

elena-kagan-not-gay Now, however, there’s a new pushback, reported by Politico‘s Ben Smith, by Kagan’s friends insisting that she’s straight and just hasn’t found the right guy yet.

Elena Kagan is not a lesbian, one of her best friends told POLITICO Tuesday night, responding to persistent rumors and innuendo about the Supreme Court nominee’s personal life.

“I’ve known her for most of her adult life and I know she’s straight,” said Sarah Walzer, Kagan’s roommate in law school and a close friend since then. “She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men — who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all of those things. She definitely dated when she was in D.C. after law school, when she was in Chicago — and she just didn’t find the right person.”

[...]

Another friend, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a member of Kagan’s social circle at Princeton University, wanted to make the same point as Walzer. “I did not go out with her, but other guys did,” he said in an email Tuesday night. “I don’t think it is my place to say more.”

Like Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan, I find Spitzer an amusing character witness.

Media MattersJamison Foser, apparently writing before Smith’s piece came out, notes that the White House issued an anonymously sourced statement at the outset that Kagan is straight and asserts that “Absent any convincing evidence to the contrary — and no, rumors and rumors about rumors don’t count as convincing evidence — the unambiguous statements of White House officials should put the speculation to rest.”    The problem with that is that the “rumors” were repeated assertions that Kagan was routinely seen in public with a female partner and made no attempt to hide her orientation, instead residing in what a Pam’s House Blend commentator, who claims to “live in Cambridge and have known people who work as staff in the Harvard Law School and library [who] had seen her with her partner,” terms “the soft closet.”

At this, point, I’m not sure what to believe.

It would be odd, indeed, for people close to Kagan to be coming out and defending her from “charges” that she’s gay if she is in fact a semi-open lesbian.  At most, you’d think they’d simply rail about the unfairness of delving into her private life and asserting that it’s nobody’s business.    But, then, why do so many people claim that she was living a decidedly non-straight lifestyle in Cambridge?  Surely, it’s not just her short hair and pants suits.   Homosexuality is less likely to raise an eyebrow in Cambridge than  open expression of Christian belief.

Does it matter?  I think so.   Sexual orientation is at least as much a part of one’s identity as race, ethnicity, and religion — all of which we openly talk about with Supreme Court nominees.   Few of us care about a nominee’s sex life, per se, which is surely none of our business.  But to the extent it shapes a person’s worldview, it’s a reasonable topic of conversation.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    What should her response be if a Senator asks her if she is gay? i think none of your business is the right answer, but you would, apparently, disagree?

    Steve

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  2. tom p says:

    But to the extent it shapes a person’s worldview, it’s a reasonable topic of conversation.

    Just as everything else in a persons life shapes their worldview…

    But then, her worldview is not the question, her views of the constitution and the law are.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    i think none of your business is the right answer, but you would, apparently, disagree?

    I do but don’t think the question will be asked, at least not directly. I’m really talking here about the legitimacy of the topic for discussion, rather than the Senate hearings.

    But then, her worldview is not the question, her views of the constitution and the law are.

    Sure. And it’s not like Sotomayor was asked about growing up Puerto Rican or Clarence Thomas about growing up black. But those things surely factored in to what kind of judges they are.

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  4. I think it’s a matter of Lefty projection trying to pre-emptively defend her from what they imagine would be the avenue of attack from Rightwingers. It’s the old song and dance: (1) Leftists think all RWs are homophobes (2) They expect the Right to attack Kagan from a homophobic perspective (3) Therefore they launch a defense of her as “she’s not gay, so you can’t attack her for being lesbian.”

    I guess it’s a lot like putting the cart before the horse, although yes, I did see on Twitter one family-oriented group claiming that if Kagan were indeed homosexual she would be unqualified for the court. I just think the pre-emptive defense on the Left’s part is just… bizarre.

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  5. Anderson says:

    But, then, why do so many people claim that she was living a decidedly non-straight lifestyle in Cambridge? Surely, it’s not just her short hair and pants suits.

    That actually suffices in many people’s minds, where a woman is 50 and single.

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  6. Dave says:

    The POLITICO article is the first time I’d seen someone on-record confirming her sexuality. Before that, I had heard a lot of “it’s an open secret in Cambridge” and “everyone knows” that she’s gay. But those claims were never attributed.

    Who, exactly, said she was gay?

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  7. dunk says:

    Interesting indeed, but I just have a hard time believing her sexual preferences matter at all. And yes, I am a socially-conservative right-winger.

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  8. Anderson says:

    Who, exactly, said she was gay?

    Ben Domenech.

    Which reliably means that someone else said it first.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    Ben Domenech.

    Which reliably means that someone else said it first.

    Indeed, if you follow the first link in the post, you’ll see that several left-leaning and gay sites were operating on the assumption she was a lesbian because “everyone knew she was.”

    But it’s true that there’s no one going on the record with first- or second-hand knowledge and using their name.

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  10. Anderson says:

    Many gays do have a way of leaping to the conclusion that person X is gay, to cheer themselves up I supposed.

    You can see it particularly in those lists of historical personages said to be gay, on who knows what evidence (never married! didn’t live with his wife!).

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  11. Anderson says:

    … And you are probably to be congratulated for passing over my Domenech allusion in silence. I couldn’t resist.

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  12. The problem isn’t whether she’s gay, it’s whether someone’s sex life is anyone’s business assuming they’re not rapists or pedophiles.

    Wonder if you think it would be appropriate for a prospective employer to question you about your sexual habits? Do you think they’re material to your ability to do your job? Assuming you’re hetero, there’s many flavors of that. Should everyone be required to describe their favored sexual pratices before employment?

    The speculation is ridiculous and her orientation is unwarranted and immaterial.

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  13. Michael says:

    What should her response be if a Senator asks her if she is gay? i think none of your business is the right answer, but you would, apparently, disagree?

    I think someone should ask her, if she hasn’t personally confirmed or denied the accuracy of it. There’s nothing wrong with a gay Supreme Court Justice, but it will have bearing on her views of whether or not gay marriage is a fundamental right.

    Wonder if you think it would be appropriate for a prospective employer to question you about your sexual habits? Do you think they’re material to your ability to do your job?

    In this specific case, she is likely to be asked to rule on the legal rights of gays to marry, so yes, I think it is a material question.

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  14. In this specific case, she is likely to be asked to rule on the legal rights of gays to marry, so yes, I think it is a material question.

    As opposed to the hetero justices? Should all of them then disclose their sexual practices? Likely to rule on porn cases. Do we ask them if they consume porn? And then how about their religion? How often they go to church? Slippery slope if you ask me.

    We’re all shaped by our life experience but job criteria should be based solely on ability, not personal details that aren’t really anyone’s business.

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  15. mattt says:

    I’ve only read the Ben Smith piece, but – the fact that Kagan showed interest in and dated men in the 1980s (which is what I read the “witnesses” as saying) might only mean that she hadn’t come to terms with her sexuality at that time. Maybe she still hasn’t, fully.

    What if she does have a female partner – and is interested in men, too? Could the reason for the stonewalling be that while many feel the country is ready for a gay justice, it might not be ready for a swinging bisexual justice?

    As for whether we should be talking about this… generally I think nominees should be allowed some privacy about their personal lives and judged on their professional and civic records. But orientation is not just a matter of private life, but of identity, so it’s not an easy call.

    Ask yourself this: if Kagan said, “I am gay,” would that affect her qualification for the court? What if she said, “I am straight?” If the answer in both cases is No – as it is for me – why should Senators ask the question?

    Of course commentators are free to gossip about whatever they like, as I’ve done here.

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  16. Michael says:

    As opposed to the hetero justices? Should all of them then disclose their sexual practices?

    Since you have already defined their sexuality, presumably we don’t have to.

    Likely to rule on porn cases. Do we ask them if they consume porn?

    Again, I think there is already the presumption that they current or have in the past consumed porn.

    And then how about their religion?

    We already know their religion too.

    How often they go to church?

    I’m not saying to ask how often she has sex with women, I’m saying ask if she considers herself gay or straight.

    We’re all shaped by our life experience but job criteria should be based solely on ability, not personal details that aren’t really anyone’s business.

    If you can cleanly separate your work and personal attributes, then perhaps that would be true. But you can’t, which is why most job interviews will ask you about hobbies, family, personal interests, etc.

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  17. Michael says:

    I think nominees should be allowed some privacy about their personal lives

    I agree, however I don’t see how her sexual orientation is any more “personal life” than her ethnicity, gender or religious affiliation.

    I’m heterosexual. That’s not a secret. That’s not private information. What I do in my bedroom is private. Who I am is public. Your sexual orientation is part of who you are.

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  18. DavidL says:

    If the White House has been smart enough to offer no comment as to Kagan’s eexuality that could have been the end of the issue. However the White House denied that Kagan is homosexual and therefore Kagan’s sexuality and the White House’s honesty, or lack thereof, is an issue.

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  19. anjin-san says:

    therefore Kagan’s sexuality and the White House’s honesty, or lack thereof, is an issue.

    Only in the minds of the far right, as they are desperately seeking an issue where none exists.

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  20. anjin-san says:

    most job interviews will ask you about hobbies, family, personal interests, etc.

    Well, its been a while since I have had a job interview, but I think most corporate legal departments would feel that those sort of questions would create exposure for the company.

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  21. [...] suggests that it’s a legitimate topic of discussion, as with one’s other demographic groupings (religion, ethnicity, and the like) that might [...]

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  22. Michael says:

    Well, its been a while since I have had a job interview, but I think most corporate legal departments would feel that those sort of questions would create exposure for the company.

    Oh most definitely, but unless you’re interviewing for a position in the legal department, they aren’t the ones asking the questions.

    In most cases, the person making the hiring decision wants to know who they’re bringing on to their team, and don’t care so much about distant possibilities of discrimination lawsuits.

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  23. Who cares that Elena Kagan is Gay, I think the bigger issue is why is Obama against her coming out and saying it?

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  24. tom p says:

    Sure. And it’s not like Sotomayor was asked about growing up Puerto Rican or Clarence Thomas about growing up black. But those things surely factored in to what kind of judges they are.

    James: agreed, and it definitely affects one’s view of the law. But… I am a union carpenter, want to know my view of the law? Ask me. I’ll tell you. Want to know her view of the law? Ask her…

    Of course, I am not up for a SCOTUS appointment so I can be a little more honest, and she has never had to author an opinion from the bench, so she can be a little more slippery…

    Life’s a beach.

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  25. Michael Buchanan says:

    This whole mess perfectly illustrates why we need to extend equality to all Americans. Once we do that, this subject will be moot. Until then, expect it to always come up. Politicians seem to want it to always come up.

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