2012 Profile in Courage Award Honors Iowa Justices Who Legalized Same-Sex Marriage and U.S. Ambassador to Syria

For Immediate Release: May 7, 2012 
Further information: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662, rachel.flor@jfklfoundation.org

Boston MA – Three former Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were removed from office by Iowa voters after joining a unanimous decision to legalize same-sex marriage in that state were presented the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ today by Caroline Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and former justices David Baker and Michael Streit were chosen in recognition of the political courage and judicial independence each demonstrated in setting aside popular opinion to uphold the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution. 

Also honored with a Profile in Courage Award at today’s ceremony was Robert Ford, U.S. Ambassador to Syria, whose bold and courageous diplomacy has provided crucial support to Syrians struggling under the brutal regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. 

“Courage is a rare and critical quality in our democracy,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “Our honorees, Justices Baker, Streit, and Ternus, and Ambassador Ford, have put their lives and careers on the line to protect the fundamental civil rights of Americans who wish to marry the person they love, and to help bring the freedoms we enjoy to oppressed Syrians fighting for a better future. They are an example and an inspiration to us all.” 

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award™ in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday. The Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co. 

David Baker, Michael Streit and Marsha Ternus, Former Iowa Supreme Court Justices 
On April 3, 2009, Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit joined a unanimous opinion which struck down Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Varnum v. Brien decision was the first unanimous high court opinion on marriage for same-sex couples, and it made Iowa the third state in the U.S. and the first state outside of New England to allow same-sex marriage. When the justices cast their votes to legalize same-sex marriage, they were aware that national groups opposed to marriage equality were preparing to launch an unprecedented retaliatory campaign to oust them, but the Court stressed in its opinion that its responsibility was “to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.” 

Although the Court’s decision was unanimous, Ternus, Baker and Streit were the only three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2010. A provision of Iowa’s court system established 50 years ago to protect the bench from unscrupulous or corrupt judges, retention votes were explicitly non-political. Despite the votes’ intended use, in the fall of that year, the three justices faced a million-dollar opposition campaign managed by the National Organization for Marriage. They did not campaign on their own behalf, believing it was inappropriate for members of the court to solicit votes in a political context and only spoke publicly about the vote shortly before Election Day. All three were defeated, marking the first time since Iowa’s modern judicial system was established that any high court judge was ousted in a retention vote. The National Organization for Marriage has planned to launch similar campaigns in 2012 and 2016 against the remaining four justices who decided Varnum v. Brien. 

The 2012 Profile in Courage Award is presented to Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit for their demonstrated political courage and judicial independence in upholding, in the face of popular opposition, the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution. 

Robert Ford, United States Ambassador to Syria 
Robert S. Ford began serving a recess appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to Syria in January 
2011. A few short weeks after his arrival, a wave of prodemocracy protests swept through the Middle East and public protests in Syria launched an uprising against the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A former Peace Corps volunteer and then career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, Ford’s robust diplomacy on the ground in Syria centered on a strong show of support for the Syrian opposition movement. At personal risk, he traveled all over the country, talking with the Syrian people and using social media to encourage dissidents to embrace forms of non-violent protest against government-backed brutality. 

Ford’s courageous support for the opposition garnered global attention in July 2011, when he visited the city of Hama in advance of planned demonstrations there. Ford’s physical presence in Hama, without official sanction from the Syrian government, functioned as a visible statement of support for the demonstrators and an unambiguous rebuke of the government-backed violence against them. In an August 2011 interview with ABC News, Ford spoke resolutely against the government’s violent crackdown: “I don’t particularly care [if Syria is angry], because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protestors. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to…I’m going to keep moving around the country. I can’t stop.” This and other explicit displays of solidarity with the Syrian people stretched the usual bounds of formal diplomacy and put his own safety at risk. 

After his visit to Hama, the Associated Press reported assaults on Ford’s residence and convoy. Despite such attacks, Ford continued to support the opposition by attending protestor funerals, speaking with Syrians on the ground and through social media, and educating Americans via satellite images and descriptions of the conflict on the embassy’s official Facebook page. On February 6, 2012, as the violence in Syria worsened, the United States closed the American embassy and removed Ambassador Ford from the country. Robert Ford continues to serve his post from Washington, D.C. 

The 2012 Profile in Courage Award is presented to Ambassador Robert Ford for the courageous example he has set and the light he has shone on the power of creative and robust diplomacy to serve as a vital tool for advancing human rights. 

This year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s prestigious award for political courage were selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 13-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-Maryland); Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-South Carolina); Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., former U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts) and Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Martha Minow, Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Tom McNaught, executive director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. 

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service. For more information about the Profile in Courage Award and the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, visit www.jfklibrary.org.