Earlier this month, Martin Jenkins, a gay practicing Catholic, was confirmed as the first openly gay Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of California.
Jenkins’ nomination by California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom made national news as it was noted Jenkins would be the first openly gay and only third African American man to sit on the state’s supreme court.
A former player in the National Football League, Jenkins earned his J.D. from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school, and went on to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals before most recently serving in Gov. Newsom’s administration.
Jenkins, 66, has only recently opened up about his sexuality, telling The Los Angeles Times that he began coming out as gay in the last five years. Starting in high school and continuing throughout his life and his career, Jenkins recounts that he suppressed his sexual identity. He told The Advocate,
“I compartmentalized in college, when I went to the NFL, through law school, through all of it, and in my mind, I wasn’t gay for a long time…I just kept pressing it down, pressing it down until in some shape or form it just became nonexistent. Once in a while it would rear its head, but it never went away. How could it?”
A naturally private person, Jenkins did not feel compelled to speak openly about his sexuality. Yet, he began to feel the toll that compartmentalizing part of his identity was taking on him. Preparing for the worst, Jenkins stressed about coming out to his father before he passed away. With tender love, his father embraced him and assured him “There’s nothing you could do or be that would make me love you less.”
When asked about his faith and how he sees God reacting to his being gay, Jenkins offered a reflection not dissimilar to the sentiment his own dad shared. He said,
“Reconciliation of faith may be one of the most challenging aspects of my job and personally with my sexuality. But I work with that too. I’ve been a practicing Catholic all my life, and I truly believe in the God of love and that God loves me as I am now.”
A lifelong Catholic, Jenkins regularly attends St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in West Oakland and credits that faith community for keeping him humble and rooted. Friends and colleagues of Jenkins highlighted his integrity and his faith in interviews with the press, noting his commitment to his community and how his faith in God expresses itself in grace and kindness.
Since coming out, Jenkins has met and fallen in love with, Sydney Shand, who is now his partner. After decades of compartmentalizing, Jenkins allowed himself to love authentically:
“It was the first time I fell in love and was willing to go ahead and embrace that emotion and return it without sabotaging it.”
Woven throughout Jenkins’ story is the experience of love—which is a central tenet of Catholicism and the God of Christianity. While some Catholics and Christians insist LGBTQ people can only live out a full life by denying part of themselves, Jenkins’ own life proves the opposite. Through his coming out process, Jenkins experienced a real-life manifestation of God’s unconditional love. It was only after embracing his sexuality that Jenkins was able to truly fall in love. That authentic love is surely sacramental as it reflects God’s love.
It may come as a surprise to some that the first LGBTQ Justice on the California Supreme Court is a Catholic. It may come as disappointment to others. But Jenkins’ place on the Supreme Court confirms what Catholic LGBTQ advocates have known for a long time. Rather than being a scandal or an aberration, LGBTQ people occupy all the same spaces their straight Catholic family members also occupy. Martin Jenkins’ appointment to the Supreme Court of California offers the opportunity to advance the Catholic Church’s compassionate mission to those on the margins of society. As a black gay Catholic, Jenkins has a unique perspective to offer the courts, and is in a position to institutionalize his inherently Catholic life’s goal: to treat others with respect and to help others in any way he can.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, December 21, 2020