Civil Rights, the Courts, and Public Opinion: The Case of Gay Marriage

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Opponents of Proposition 8, California's anti-gay marriage bill, hold signs outside of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on February 7, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Getty)

In the 1930s, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, with Thurgood Marshall at the helm, pioneered civil rights litigation tactics, strategies that eventually led to the Supreme Court declaring school segregation unconstitutional in the 1954 landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. Marshall's success story set a precedent that other disadvantaged groups, including the LGBT community, followed to secure civil rights for their own communities.

While Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education can change the course of American history, they can also engender serious political backlash. Harvard Law Professor Michael Klarman examined this phenomenon in terms of race in his previous work, and he applies this argument to gay marriage in his new book, "From the Closet to the Altar: Court, Backlash and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage."

Court rulings for same-sex marriage have galvanized the LGBT community in recent years. Thrust into the public spotlight, gay couples "upended traditional stereotypes of homosexuality," as Americans watched LGBT families celebrate in the wake of gay marriage victories in the courts. And yet, the political backlash to court decisions in favor of gay marriage has clearly hindered the movement in some cases. As Klarman writes, "Were it not for Baehr [the 1993 case in which the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that excluding gay couples from marriage is discrimination], DOMA would probably not exist."


Michael Klarman

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [3]

Toriana from Pennsylvania

i'm doing a research paper on Gay marriage. To find some of things I have from the opposing side absolutely apalls me. I cannot believe intelligent people come up with such ignorant answers. They really need to re-check there values.

I love politics with all my heart.SO I belive you shouldn't combine politics with religion. Things based upon this country and it's rights should be made to keep us happy. Not God.

Oct. 11 2012 05:43 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I've been married three times! Everyone needs to suffer like I have

Oct. 11 2012 12:22 PM
George Olds from Clearwater, FL

Re: "gay couples "upended traditional stereotypes of homosexuality," as Americans watched LGBT families"

Yes, seeing something other than the picture painted of gays by the rabid, reactionary, radical, 'religious' (f)rightwing will always upend false stereotypes. Gays are NOT the equivalent of (and I quote): beastialists, rapists, child-molesters, necrophiliacs or "worse than terrorists" that "Good Christians" (TM, all rights reserved) keep trying to paint them to be.

Oct. 11 2012 11:10 AM

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