Constitution-Day Speaker Addresses Same-Sex Marriage

789906In celebration of Constitution Day on Sept. 17, Bowdoin welcomed Steve Engel, associate professor and chair of politics at Bates College, to lecture on the research and theory of his forthcoming book, Fragmented Citizens: Changing Recognition of Gay and Lesbian Lives.

Engel laid out his analysis of the constitutional grounding for the recent Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, a decision that on June 26 granted same-sex couples the right to marry throughout the country. Engel argued that the language that comprised Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion marked a new trend and a departure from similar past decisions. Engel said that Kennedy had established a new doctrine of “dignity,” and that this rhetoric was “moving against…the court’s identity politics of the 20th century.”

While he conveyed support for the result of the ruling (marriage equality), Engel suggested that the uncharted territory of the “dignity” doctrine could lead to unexpected consequences for other social justice issues currently being debated in courts, such as striking down affirmative action and limiting abortion access.

Alexa Horwitz ’19 attended the lecture and remarked that “listening to someone who has a lot of knowledge on the subject was eye opening,” adding that she was just beginning to learn about LGBTQ rights and politics. Julia Mead ’16, who said she had followed the case closely in June, commented that the lecture “helped [her] understand the nuance of the Supreme Court marriage equality decision.” She went on to say, “I’m now thinking of [the decision] as a victory, but a qualified one.”

Afterward, Engel said of his experience speaking at Bowdoin, “I very much enjoyed having the opportunity to give the talk…I’m quite honored that Bowdoin included me in its marking of Constitution Day; it is a perfect occasion to…dig deep into exploring what our Constitution means…and how we can continue to make it meaningful in our ongoing aspirations to free and equal citizenship.”

The talk was by sponsored by the Department of Government and Legal Studies; the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program; and the McKeen Center for the Common Good; with funding from the John C. Donovan Lecture Fund.

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