Debating Same-Sex Marriage: Lessons from Loving, Roe, and Reynolds

Joe Phillips, Joseph Yi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The United States Supreme Court, in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (SSM). With Republicans now controlling the Congress and presidency, and with value-traditionalists and ‘strict’ constitutionalists influencing the party’s legislative agenda and judicial nominees, Obergefell’s future and the contours of SSM rights are uncertain. Proponents assume the decision will delegitimate opponents, just as Loving v. Virginia (1967) accelerated the delegitimation of racial segregationists. SSM opponents counter with the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and argue that, like Roe, Obergefell undermines the democratic process, which is better suited to resolve a highly-charged moral dispute. Like Roe, Obergefell will not resolve the debate but, instead, trigger a durable opposition. We add a third possible path, drawing on the evolving public discourse on polygamy since the Supreme Court upheld prohibitions in Reynolds v. United States (1878). The politics of polygamy shows that, if SSM opponents are delegitimated, they may reemerge as legitimate participants in the public sphere. These paths offer insights into uncertainties, contingencies, and predictions regarding the durability of SSM resistance and other oppositional movements. They also lead to revisionist interpretations of the effect on public discourse flowing from these three seminal court decisions. The politics of interracial marriage (after Loving) shunned the losing political faction from the public forum, while those of abortion (after Roe), and, recently, polygamy, illustrate a more vibrant, pluralist model of deliberation. Whether SSM opponents will mimic a Roe model, or follow the trajectory of Loving or Reynolds, is now the question.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-34
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Feb 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Debating Same-Sex Marriage: Lessons from Loving, Roe, and Reynolds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this