Just when you think it couldn't get worse, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gives an interview that reveals that he's been living further back in a past century than you'd ever imagined. And this chat is actually much more illuminating, giving us some clues as to how Scalia's blood-curdling homophobia persists in modern America.
In this latest interview, with Jennifer Senior at New York magazine, the conservative, devoutly Catholic justice known for his horrifically anti-gay screeds responded to a question about Pope Francis' interview in which the pontiff said Catholic Church leaders are too "obsessed" with gay marriage and abortion. Scalia's own son Paul is a Roman Catholic priest affiliated with Courage, a sort of "pray away the gay"-lite group that's focused on, and certainly obsessed with, helping gays refrain from acting on their same-sex attractions (and which holds a stomach-turning view of transgender people).
Not surprisingly, Scalia, like most anti-gay Catholic leaders in the U.S., blew off Francis' words, saying they don't reveal a change in doctrine, ignoring the fact that even a change in tone and emphasis is a huge shift for the church. But that's when the interview got really interesting. Noting that the pope's comments show that the world has changed, Senior asked Scalia what kind of "personal exposure" he might have had to this societal shift. Scalia answered by saying, "I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does." When she followed up by asking if any of them have come out to him, Scalia answered, "No. No. Not that I know of."
The fact that any American in 2013 -- let alone a justice of the United States Supreme Court, located in a major urban center with a large LGBT population -- can say he or she doesn't know anyone who is openly gay is pretty astounding. A 2010 CBS News poll found that that at least six in 10 Americans have a close friend or colleague who is gay or lesbian. Only 22 percent of Americans say they don't know anyone who is gay.
And "suspecting" that someone is gay -- and the word itself betrays Scalia's belief that homosexuality is criminal behavior -- is not the same as knowing an openly gay person. The people in Scalia's life who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender don't talk to him about it, don't expose him to anything about their lives and are probably either afraid of the ramifications of being out to him or personally conflicted themselves, or both. Basically, it's the same thing as Scalia not knowing anyone gay, and it may even be worse: In staying closeted to Scalia, these people may be tacitly sending him a message that homosexuality is something shameful that one should keep to oneself, or something that one should be afraid to speak about. (And who could blame any gay person who might work for Scalia for not being out to a man who thinks it should be perfectly legal to jail people for sodomy?)
Several surveys and polls in recent years have found that the when people know someone who is gay or lesbian, they are more likely to support gay rights. A Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year found that among people who changed their minds in support of gay marriage, 32 percent did so simply because they know someone who is gay.
Scalia has spun a cocoon around himself, protected from the knowledge that anyone in his life is gay and open and outspoken about it. And it's not like he's getting much exposure through the media: He also noted in the interview that he only reads the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and the right-wing Washington Times. In addition, for news he listens to "talk guys" on the radio, specifically Bill Bennett, a man who has spewed some horrendous lies about LGBT people, including his outrageous and widely criticized claim some years back that gay men have a life span of only 43 years.
Is it any wonder that Scalia is able to continue to stew in anti-gay bile as the world, including the pope, changes all around him?