Obergefell at the Intersection of Civil Rights and Social Movements

Goldberg, Suzanne B.

A judicial decision striking down formalized discrimination marks a crucial moment for those it affects and, in some instances, for the surrounding society as well. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was unquestionably one of those instances.

In this Essay, I consider the distinct ways in which the civil rights and social movements for marriage equality helped give rise to a durable socio-political transformation, as reflected in the widespread acceptance of the Court’s decision. By drawing this civil rights/social movement distinction, I mean to separate efforts to achieve new rights from efforts to achieve greater acceptance or affirmation. In the case of marriage equality, I argue that the two movements—one focused primarily on law reform and the other on social change—had an unusually strong coalescence in their goals and desires. This coalescence enabled social changes to propel legal changes and vice versa.


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March 9, 2020