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UA speaker details changes in gay rights through history

Logan Cook

Geoffrey R. Stone, author of “Sex and the Constitution,” speaks on Jan. 27.

Students, faculty and community members gathered to hear the 36th annual Isaac Marks Memorial Lecture on Friday, Jan. 27. at the James E. Rogers College of Law. This year’s lecturer, Geoffrey R. Stone, spoke about “Getting to Same-Sex Marriage.”

Stone’s lecture focused on the current and past views of homosexuality and the law in this country, beginning with Greek history all the way to the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. The lecture discussed how events like the Stonewall Riots eventually led to the Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

“I’m just really looking forward for the history of how it’s evolved from being something that was OK in ancient Roman and Greek times to something that was criminalized and made morally and sometimes even ethically wrong, and to see how we’ve finally come full circle,” said law student Krista Loya before the lecture.

Stone is a service professor of law at the University of Chicago. He also served as dean of its school of law from 1987-1994 and provost for the University of Chicago from 1994-2002. Stone’s newest book, “Sex and the Constitution,” will be released in March, and is the foundation for his lecture.

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“I think talking about the constitutionality of certain issues is always kind of an interesting topic, part of why I’m in law school is those kinds of things, so I guess it’s an intersection of my interests and my own identity,” said Logan Cooper, a first-year law student.

Cooper said it was interesting hearing Stone’s commentary on the progression of the court over time.

Stone’s talking points began with the legal case of Bowers v. Hardwick, where he pointed out the flaws and key points of the case.  Stone also pointed out the decisions of Supreme Court judges over time, stating that just because five is more than four does not always make the majority right.

“As citizens of a free and self-governing society we must constantly dedicate ourselves to rigorous open minded and unyielding search for truth,” he said. “We must have the courage and open-mindedness and integrity to question the conventional wisdom and to challenge the nature of things.”

Stone talked about a pre-Christian world and how they did not find the idea of same-sex relations as something with sin necessarily. But with the emergence of Christianity, those ideas of same-sex relationships changed.

He said the idea of same-sex relations was frowned upon by the church and later put into doctrine, making it illegal. Many homosexuals who were found guilty of these acts were castrated, burned at the stake, dismembered, drowned and or stoned to death.

Students were surprised at some of the details they learned.

“I think the lecture went really well and it certainly gave me some insight on the history of same-sex marriage and I don’t think it’s actually common knowledge for most people, which I think it should be,” said Guadalupe Garcia, a first-year law student.

Stone said the term that Carl Wittman coined, that it was time for the homosexuals to “come out,” was used for the first time in that manner. Stone said by 1969, only a few members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning organizations had come out as openly and publicly homosexual.

Stone said that history was turning in favor from the ’60s and into the next decade. He spoke of the Stonewall Riots and how they later inspired the first gay pride parades, to how a lesbian mother retained custody of her child in court, to the American Psychiatric Association declaring that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

As time went on, so did the outrage from religious groups, and leaders of the Christian right. A new religious anti-gay movement was born and the campaign with messages like a bumper sticker that read “kill a queer for Christ.”

Within the next few decades, the outlook on homosexuals began to look less terrifying, with a large victory coming in the Obergefell v. Hodges case.

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Stone said it is important to not take that achievement for granted. 

“Twenty-five years ago no one in this room would’ve imagined that the Supreme Court of the United States would hold that homosexuals have a constitutional right to marry one another,” Stone said. “The truth is it’s remarkable/”

He also spoke on how for most of American history an understanding of religion dictated the law on issues like sexual expression, contraception, abortion and homosexuality, over the last century those religious values have been pushed aside and allowed individuals to act on their own.

He said he views this as a great achievement in a society dedicated to the separation of church and state.

The James E. Roger College of Law hosts the Marks lectures as a way for the college to enrich their curriculum for their students. The lectures happen annually and have an array of speakers and subjects such as debating torture, abortion, Supreme Court review and religious intolerance.

“I think the Marks lectures offers a unique opportunity for law students here in Tucson to hear from legal scholars, and jurists that are the most renowned in our profession,” said Suzanne Rabe, the director of legal writing and a clinical law professor.

Stone said he would like to think that the lecture would give those who attended a better sense of the history of these issues and how law evolved over time in regards to same sex marriage in the legal aspect.

Stone offered this advice to LGBTQ+ individuals who might be feeling discouraged in the nation’s current state. 

“I sympathize, I share that feeling, and I think it’s important to have the courage to stand up for one’s rights and beliefs and interests in this moment, more than most times in the past,” Stone said.

Follow David Pujol on Twitter.

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