U. history professor cited in SCOTUS same-sex marriage majority decision| Jun 27, 2015
Washington, D.C. —History professor Hendrik Hartog found himself entwined in history on Friday when his book, “Man and Wife in America: A History,” was cited in Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.
“As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned,” Kennedy wrote. “These and other developments in the institution of marriage over the past centuries were not mere superficial changes. ... Rather, they worked deep transformations in its structure, affecting aspects of marriage long viewed by many as essential. See generally N. Cott, Public Vows; S. Coontz, Marriage; H. Hartog, Man & Wife in America: A History (2000).”
Marriage is a historically changing institution, Hartog said,and the existing scholarship largely refutes the idea that gay marriage isn’t consistent with a historical trajectory of change.
“Our histories all show that there’s a two-to-three century struggle in equality of marriage, and the gay marriage movement is a continuation of that,” Hartog said.
He added that this struggle fomented as women vied for rights in entrenched patriarchies, particularly equality in spousal relationships.
For a long time, marriage was a central instrument men utilized to assert power as they controlled the household and subjugated others, Hartog said. Along political lines, marriage constituted an important part in the debates in the struggle to end slavery, particularly in whether former slaves should be given the right to marry, he added.
However, Hartog said he believes the most important and contributive study to this body of scholarship was researchers demonstrating that, over time, societies came to understand marriage through the lens of individual happiness.
“Once you frame it that way, it becomes very difficult to justify not extending that right to marry to gay couples,” Hartog said.
Hartog found out about the citation a few minutes after the Supreme Court delivered the decision when his niece forwarded him the opinion, he said.
“For historians to be taken this seriously, [as well as] the fact that Roberts’s opinion [was] derived largely from a historian’s brief is just an amazing experience,” Hartog said.
Hartog said he was also amazed by the progress of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy in the past decade. In 2005, Hartog served on a panel discussion led by a mainstream same-sex advocacy groups and recalled the general atmosphere being one of “total depression.”
“Many felt they were fighting a battle against conservative religious forces and were losing. People were mobilizing troops just to resist further losses,” Hartog said. “The lesson is that you just don’t know what the future brings.”
Justices Elena Kagan ’81 and Sonia Sotomayor ’76 signed onto the majority to legalize same-sex marriage, while Justice Samuel Alito ’72 dissented.