In a genuinely pathbreaking act, South African President Mothlanthe has appointed Edwin Cameron, a justice on the Supreme Court of Appeal, as a judge of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa. Judge Cameron becomes the first openly gay man or woman ever appointed to a nation's highest court. HT to Robert Wintemute, who noted in an e/mail that Justice Michael Kirby of Australia has served as an openly gay member of that country's highest court, but was not out when he was appointed.
A former Rhodes Scholar who became a human rights lawyer, Judge Cameron is the co-author of several books, including Witness to AIDS, a memoir about his experiences as a person living with AIDS, and Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa. During his time on the Court of Appeal, he has been a leader in developing that nation's civil rights and liberties jurisprudence.
Last summer, Judge Cameron addressed the International AIDS Conference in Mexico, arguing that homosexual sexual conduct should be decriminalized throughout the world, as a necessary step in fighting AIDS. (video here) He is the co-author (with Scott Burris – Temple Law) of a scholarly paper elaborating that argument.
This is an extraordinary moment, one of those historic firsts that actually matter. By contrast, the U.S. has only one openly lesbian federal judge – the wonderful Debbie Batts in the Southern District of New York. But – There are no openly gay or lesbian federal judges at the appellate level anywhere in the U.S.
Four years from now, I hope that number will be much higher.