“The Supreme Court has sometimes lived to regret intervening too soon as the country sorted itself out on a major social controversy. But sometimes it has been catastrophically slow to act, leaving in place discriminatory laws that history would judge plainly unconstitutional.”
On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down two historic decisions affecting the fight for marriage equality; both the Defence of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 were dealt significant blows that day. While the decisions stopped short of declaring a federal constitutional right to same sex marriage, gay marriage became legal in California, and the DOMA case opened the door for the federal government to provide federal benefits to same sex couples in states where gay marriage is legal. New York Times reporter Adam Liptak revisits earlier decisions and cases that led to this moment, and tracks the route of these historic cases to the Supreme Court. While the outcome was not as broad as some proponents of marriage equality might have wished, Liptak argues that future history texts will still recognize this date as a watershed moment in the battle for gay marriage in the United States.
Gay marriage has been a reality in Canada since before I was really old enough to understand the issue or the controversy that surrounded it. Although the social context is different, it has been interesting, if sometimes frustrating, to watch the debate play out in the United States at a much slower pace. In this primer, Liptak takes the reader beyond what you would find in the average news article covering these important cases, by examining arguments that were considered and discarded, and pointing to other cases that might have arrived at the Supreme Court before the Windsor case. He also has a comprehensive understanding the dynamics between the nine justices, and thorough knowledge of their backgrounds and sympathies. He provides a solid historical background to contextualize the issues, but doesn’t get bogged down in the past. He manages to retain a great deal of nuance in his explanations and analyses despite the necessity of simplifying the issues for length and popular consumption. This is a well-written and carefully explained short introduction to the legal battle for marriage equality in the United States.
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