On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in two cases that could become landmarks of American legal history: challenges to Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative that outlawed gay marriage in California, and to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The final decision won’t be announced for months, but there’s quite a few books that offer insight into the Supreme Court and the issues of same-sex marriage to tide you over until then.
“Supreme Court Decisions,” part of the excellent 2012 Penguin Civic Classics series, is a fascinating, highly accessible survey of 30 of the court’s most important decisions. Read through them and you get the sense that American legal history is the story of a court constantly navigating between competing visions of American’s rights and freedoms.
Supporters of gay marriage might hope for the simple eloquence of the statement of 1954’s ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” But defenders of tradition marriage can take heart in the 2000 Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale, in which the court ruled that the Boy Scouts’ 1st Amendment rights meant they didn’t have to accept an openly gay troop leader: “the freedom of association… plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate.”
New Yorker and CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin famously got it wrong when he predicted that the court would overturn President Obama’s healthcare law, but his two books on the court, 2007’s “The Nine” and last year’s “The Oath” are still essential reading.
In one of its most famous decisions on marriage, Loving vs. Virginia, the court threw out anti-miscegenation laws that prevented interracial couples from marrying in several states. The influence of that case, and its possible implications for the gay marriage debate, are the series of essays published last June by Cambridge University Press, “Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Marriage.”
A series of books in recent years have dealt with the debate from the perspective of the gay rights’ movement: “Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry,” by Evan Wolfson; and “The Long Arc of Justice: Lesbian and Gay Marriage, Equality, and Rights,” by Richard Mohr.
If you’re looking for something more inspirational, there’s “The Air We Breathe,” a book released by the San Francisco Museum of Art in 2011 in which several artists and poets create works inspirted by the debate.
And, of course, these days there’s a kid’s book for just about every issue. “My Uncle’s Wedding” is popular with those who support same-sex marriage. It begins, “There’s so much to do now that Uncle Mike and Steve are getting married.”