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.”