Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe

Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe

Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe

Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe


The U.S. Supreme Court of the 1960s and 1970s is typically celebrated by liberals and condemned by conservatives for its rulings on abortion, birth control, and other sexual matters. In this new work, historian Marc Stein demonstrates convincingly that both sides have it wrong. Focusing on six major Supreme Court cases, Stein examines more liberal rulings on birth control, abortion, interracial marriage, and obscenity alongside a profoundly conservative ruling on homosexuality in Boutilier.

In the same era in which the Court recognized special marital, reproductive, and heterosexual rights and privileges, it also upheld an immigration statute that classified homosexuals as "psychopathic personalities." How, then, did Americans come to believe that the Court supported the sexual revolution? Stein shows that a diverse set of influential journalists, judges, and scholars translated the Court's language about marital and reproductive rights into bold statements about sexual freedom and equality. Creatively researched and persuasively argued, this book not only provides the first in-depth account of Boutilier, one of the Court's earliest gay rights cases, but will change the way we think about the Supreme Court and the sexual revolution.


In the early 1970s, when I was about nine years old and living with my family in suburban New York, my parents decided to purchase new furniture, carpets, and wallpaper for my sister’s bedroom and the room my younger brother and I shared. My brother and I selected a colonial-style desk and dresser, a navy blue shag carpet, and wallpaper that featured red, white, and blue stripes, stars, soldiers, guns, and drums. The celebration of the U.S. bicentennial was approaching, and I suspect that our selections reflected a combination of popular design trends, conventional masculine aspirations, immigrant family identifications, and my own peculiarly strong patriotic fervor, which later found expression in my passionate devotion to the Broadway musical 1776 and the photographic images of the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court that I taped to the back of our bedroom door. My parents tried to make us understand that we would have to live with our design choices for many years. We persisted, however, and sure enough that furniture, carpeting, and wallpaper remained in my childhood bedroom until 1999, when my parents sold their house. When I traveled from Canada, where I had moved recently, to visit my parents for the last time before their departure, my partner used my brother’s bed, I claimed my old one, and we slept surrounded by the colors and symbols of a country that was no longer my home.

I begin with this story to measure the distance I have traveled in the last few decades and to give my readers a sense of the personal and political journeys that led me to and through this book. All historians bring to their work a set of motivations, interests, and concerns that influence their interpretations. Those who claim to approach the past with disinterested and dispassionate objectivity not only suffer from a lack of honest interest and genuine passion, but also mislead readers into wanting forms of historical analysis that are as unrealistic as they are undesirable.1 I bring to this project the profound disappointments of a U.S. citizen who once believed deeply in the guiding visions of my country but who has lived for much of the last twelve years as an expatriate ex-patriot in Canada.

As is the case with many U.S. Americans, my childhood patriotism was . . .

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