Sidney H. Asch, whose career as a New York state assemblyman and later judge was marked by rulings and efforts to extend the rights of gays and protect consumers, died in North Carolina on Sept. 1 at 92.
As a state appellate judge in 1985, Asch wrote the decision upholding a ruling by then New York Mayor Edward I. Koch that banned private agencies doing business with the city from discriminating against homosexuals, including church-run groups. ”Where sexual proclivity does not relate to job function, it seems clearly unconstitutional to penalize an individual in one of the most imperative of life’s endeavors, the right to earn one’s daily bread,” Asch wrote.
But his 1975 ruling overturning an antiquated law that kept beauty salons from cutting men’s hair, even though barbers could cut women’s “may have affected the broadest spectrum of the population — among the city’s long-haired, style-conscious men, at least.”
Asch, who wrote eight books of scholarly and public interest, also was known for a witty turn of phrase from the bench when the occasion permitted.
In 1968 Asch issued the first ruling supporting a state law allowing jilted lovers to sue to get back their engagement rings. “When the burning blue white flames of romance died out all that was left was the blue-white diamond,” he wrote.
Asch was born in New York. His father was in the garment business. He graduated from City College and Columbia Law School, was a military lawyer during World War II, taught at New York Law School, City College of New York, and Mount Sinai Medical School. He was elected to the New York Assembly from the Bronx in 1952 and became a Democratic Party district leader in 1956 as he received a Ph.D. in sociology from the New School.
His academic credentials were something of a novelty in politics then, which prompted the New York Times to headline its 1956 article about his election as: “Democrats Pick Ph.D. Egghead As District Leader in the Bronx,” and to quote him as saying: “I had lots to overcome in politics with my academic background.”
In the legislature in the 1950s Asch tried but failed to ban corporal punishment in schools and to require health warnings on cigarette packaging, both of which eventually became widely accepted public policy.
In retirement in 1995 he was appointed to monitor what the New York Times called “a Mafia-dominated cartel that used arson and threats to control New York City’s commercial garbage business for more than half a century.”
Among the many weddings he performed over the years was the 1972 wedding of pop singers Carly Simon, who grew up in Asch’s hometown of Riverdale, and James Taylor, which Taylor announced later that day during a concert at Radio City Music Hall.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at email@example.com.