By John MassonDec. 30, 2012
As gay Americans continue to push for equal rights under the law, a panel organized as part of U-M's 27th Annual MLK Symposium will take a look at that struggle through the lenses of law, health, and community activism.
Of particular interest to one of the panelists, Michigan Law Professor Sam Bagenstos, is the remarkable speed with which that struggle has progressed compared to similar efforts in the past. Prof. Bagenstos specializes in civil rights law, as well as constitutional law.
Other participants in the "Gay Rights: A Civil Rights Success Story?" panel will include Johnny L. Jenkins, the program director of Affirmations, and Judith Bradford, director of the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health and co-chair of the Fenway Institute in Boston. The panel is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 22 in the Michigan Union Ballroom.
"There was a lot of energy around African-American civil rights immediately after the Civil War, but it takes another 90 years before the Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education, and another 10 years or so before Congress passes the Civil Rights Act," Prof. Bagenstos said. "So it's basically 100 years after reconstruction before much meaningful progress is made."
Similarly, Prof. Bagenstos said, agitation for suffrage and women's rights began before the Civil War, but, after the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, didn't start to achieve real gains until the 1970s.
"The gay rights movement, most people date to the 1969 Stonewall riots," Prof. Bagenstos said. "Here it is 2012, and we're in a place where something that was completely unthinkable in the 1960s—legal gay marriage—is the case in a lot of states. And we might be on the verge of the court saying that's a Constitutional requirement."
Although many have expressed confidence that the decisions in two Supreme Court cases will result in gay rights victories, Prof. Bagenstos isn't so sure.
"I think it's very much up in the air what the Court is going to decide," Prof. Bagenstos said. "Regarding the prediction that the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, I would bet on those predictions, but not with a high degree of confidence. And what the Court is going to do about the anti gay-marriage proposition in California is unclear as well. It's a very interesting moment in American constitutional law."
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