Ruth and Marty Ginsburg: How to Love

Gabriel Coffey

Everyone wants to feel a sense of security in a turbulent world. Some manifest this security, some embrace the volatile nature of the world, and some are the late Ruth and Marty Ginsburg. Their 56-year marriage spoke volumes on power dynamics, and most importantly, what it means to be a good friend and partner. 

With the lack of a moral exemplar in the White House, one can find solace and guidance in the conviction of Ruth and Marty’s relationship. With this said, let not such exaltation be misconstrued as a mere tendency to focus on a woman’s relationship rather than her merits and accomplishments. Also, let it be known that this article seeks to deal with male and female power dynamics; while dealing specifically with these genders, the piece is not intended to push heteronormative views. Instead, this article is intended to act as a guide for those partners who find themselves with a woman in a position of power. 

While such a topic may appear frivolous compared to the implications of a rightward lurching court following Ruth’s death, this piece can, at the very least, act as a respite from such anxiety and present you with a tangible example for cultivating equity within a relationship. 

In a time of the 50’s ideal housewife, Ruth and Marty began their legal lives together at Cornell University. Ruth has been quoted as saying, “He was the only boy I ever knew…who cared that I had a brain.” As an important prerequisite, they also allegedly read Tolstoy and Dickens to each other out loud. Thus, we are given a vivid description of what it means to be with one of the foremost minds of the last two centuries. That is, their relationship shows us the importance of listening and making moments that will help to weather the inevitable difficulties to come.   

When Marty got cancer, Ruth typed his notes for him as he sat nearby. Ruth did this while working towards a law degree of her own. She would work all night and late into the morning. Nevertheless, Ruth was not the only one who made immense sacrifices. Marty cooked for the family, advocated for Ruth during her Supreme Court nomination process, and cooked for SCOTUS spouses

I know what you’re thinking: “he cooked dinner, so what? Ruth was dealing with systemic sexism.” I agree with you. Such a narrative undervalues the sacrifices and scrutiny Ruth had to deal with as she worked her way through the legal ranks. Unlike her husband, she was forced to take a second tier legal job out of college due to her sex. Also, when she took a professorship at Rutgers, she was informed that she would earn less than her male colleagues, despite having degrees from Cornell and Harvard. 

Yet, to say that Marty did nothing would be a disservice to their relationship and Marty himself, for he allowed Ruth to be independent while also raising kids, which was something she always wanted. He applauded her success in a field he likely coveted as a legal scholar and took on the burden of tending to the household and children in a time when this was new, having grown up under the gender norms of the 1950’s that stressed female domesticity. While the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is notoriously behind on progressive issues due to constitutional constraints, the lives led by Ruth and Marty reflected the doctrine that Ruth preached on the court: equity is deserved by all people and that Ruth would fight to bring that to fruition.

With this said, there is a task left undone. Mothers today often do double duty with children and work, while their husbands focus solely on their careers. Marty’s relationship with Ruth rebukes this norm by suggesting that you and your partner can become a team, poised to fight the injustices of the world. This dynamic of “team” maximizes the capacity for palpable change. Marty and Ruth’s relationship also exemplifies how one ought to, in the word’s of Tolstoy, “love the whole person, just as [they are], and not as you would like them to be.” Embracing another human being involves accepting the inevitable struggles that their convictions and search for meaning may create. If you are willing to pursue such meaning and justice alongside the person you love, you can be assured that what you create will be grand and will be guided by the way you treat one another.