Understanding approaches to liberalism through the study of the politics of gay and lesbian rights

Courts, Liberalism, and Rights

Gay Law and Politics in the United States and Canada

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Jason Pierceson

"Courts, Liberalism, and Rights is passionate scholarship at its best. It is a thoughtful defense of judicial activism to protect the inherent dignity and worth of every individual. This book should be required reading for every member of Congress and the Executive Branch concerned about 'judicial activism.'"
Michael Mello, Vermont Law School, and author of Legalizing Gay Marriage

In the courts, the best chance for achieving a broad set of rights for gays and lesbians lies with judges who view liberalism as grounded in an expansion of rights rather than a constraint of government activity.

At a time when most gay and lesbian politics focuses only on the issue of gay marriage, Courts, Liberalism, and Rights guides readers through a nuanced discussion of liberalism, court rulings on sodomy laws and same-sex marriage, and the comparative progress gays and lesbians have made via the courts in Canada.

As debates continue about the ability of courts to affect social change, Jason Pierceson argues that this is possible. He claims that the greatest opportunity for reform via the judiciary exists when a judiciary with broad interpretive powers encounters a political culture that endorses a form of liberalism based on broadly conceived individual rights; not a negative set of rights to be held against the state, but a set of rights that recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of every individual.



Read the Introduction (pdf).



"Pierceson has written an engaging book that should appeal to a broad array of readers. It lucidly explores issues of public law, comparative politics, political culture, liberal political theory, and institutionalism."
Evan Gerstmann, Loyola Marymount University

"This is an excellent analysis of many of the legal issues dealing with sodomy and same-sex marriages, and helps to explain why they have developed in the way that they have. The material is theoretically rich and grounded in diverse literature."
Richard Pacelle, Georgia Southern University

"Pierceson has produced a very good analysis of gay rights issues, especially the role of activist courts in protecting rights out of the mainstream of majority culture... Highly recommended."

"Jason Pierceson's Courts, Liberalism, and Rights is a timely book that provides an excellent account of the major legal developments in gay rights in the United States.... The book raises important questions about the progress of gay rights and fills a useful role for those straining to keep up with legal developments in this evolving frontier of civil rights...Pierceson's extensive coverage serves a highly useful purpose."
The Law and Politics Book Review

"Pierceson's first book...builds an enormously important research foundation.... The book includes a richly detailed account of the legal and political developments in those states in which important gains have been secured.... One of the great strengths of Pierceson's book is that he looks beyond the United States to Canada.... He has an admirable grip on many of the complexities of the Canadian case."
Political Science Quarterly

"This should be of great interest to scholars of social movements who seek to understand the breadth of ways that social movements can create social change.... Pierceson's analyses of court decisions are lucid and informative and this book will be important reading for anyone interested in the relationship between law and social movements."

"As this author persuasively shows, it is exceedingly unlikely that civil unions would have the support of so many Americans today but for the ability of the same-sex marriage litigation to place the issue of the lack of legal recognition of lesbian and gay relationships squarely before the American public....Pierceson compellingly show[s] the combination of liberal values and judicially enforced rights has produced remarkable gains in the United States for lesbians and gay men in a relatively short period of time."
Perspectives on Politics

"This book is an interesting contribution to the nascent empirical literature on lesbian and gay rights…Pierceson’s book…should top the list for political scientists and legal scholars who wish to move beyond the stereotype of ‘God versus the gays’ in American politics to understand the political strategies and political processes surrounding this litigation…he is to be commended for shedding a comparative light on U.S. developments."
Review of Constitution Studies



1. Introduction
2. U.S. Federal Courts and Gay Rights: A History of Hesitancy
3. Liberalism and Gay Politics: Rights and Their Critics
4. Toward a Better Liberalism
5. Sodomy Laws, Courts, and Liberalism
6. Lessons from Continued Sodomy Adjudication
7. Courts and Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: Hawaii and Alaska
8. Courts and Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: Vermont
9. Developments after Vermont: An Evolving Jurisprudence and Its Backlash
10. Canada: Rethinking Courts, Rights, and Liberalism
11. Courts, Social Change, and the Power of Legal Liberalism
12. Conclusion


About the Author(s)

Jason Pierceson is Assistant Professor of Political and Legal Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
Sexuality Studies/Sexual Identity
Law and Criminology

In the series

Queer Politics, Queer Theories, edited by Craig Rimmerman.

The last ten years have seen the growth of rich research in the politics of sexuality. Queer Politics, Queer Theories, edited by Craig Rimmerman, aims at developing this research both within and across disciplines. The series will focus on politics in the broadest sense: not only state- and government-oriented studies, but also community politics and the internal politics of new social movements. Such work may originate in political science, sociology, economics, American studies, philosophy, law, history, or anthropology. The series will be defined not by particular academic disciplines but by the questions raised in it. The keys are a concern for the play of power and meaning in discussions of sexuality, and/or a reading of the role of sexuality and sexual identities in conceptions of social and political studies or in our common life.



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