Bench Memos

Exceeding the Speed of Thought

That’s my judgment of the rapid progress of same-sex marriage in American law and politics, in a review of Michael Klarman’s new book on the subject at Public Discourse today.  Here’s a sample:

Strictly a legal-political history in its first eight chapters, Klarman’s book is a thorough and instructive tour of the last few decades, but only on a very narrow subject. The author’s tight focus on the marriage issue makes the book unsuitable as a history of American sexual attitudes and mores, of homosexuality generally, or of other “gay rights” issues; all these subjects tangentially appear only in connection with the marriage question. The spotlight is on activists, lawyers, judges, politicians, and public officials as they battle over whether marriage will be redefined to include same-sex relationships; in the background are voters and the general public as the terrain of the contest among elites.

But here is perhaps the useful reminder provided by Klarman’s book. Not only did no one ever believe, before the last few decades, that justice required us to redefine marriage as the solution to some problem. Among gays and lesbians themselves, it remained highly contentious, until still more recently, whether marriage was even something they wanted. They universally desired better treatment from the larger society, but it was by no means universal among them to desire marriage as the mark of that better treatment. And it was not just a question of whether they wanted to press for marriage now or later, as a tactical matter; it was an open question whether they wanted it at all.

Read the whole thing here.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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