Book Review:  Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights:  Same-Sex Marriage in the States.

Hume, Robert J., Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights:  Same-Sex Marriage in the States. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 217, pp., incl. index.  ISBN9780199982172, $85.00 (hardcover).

Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights, written by award winning author, Robert J. Hume, Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, examines why certain state court decisions have had a lasting impact on same-sex marriage by legalizing it while other state courts have been unable or unwilling to provide marriage equality to residents.  I recommend that Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights be included in an academic law library collection. 

In the introduction (chapters 1 and 2), Hume provides a clear roadmap of the book’s structure and sets forth his thesis that various factors relating to the democratization of state courts and state constitutional systems have been critical to state court success in legalizing same-sex marriage.  Hume provides a context for his thesis by discussing and comparing previous state court decisions in favor of and against same-sex marriage.

In Part II (chapters 3 and 4) of the book, Hume provides a more thorough history of same-sex marriage by discussing, in great detail, the state court decisions that have shaped the debate surrounding same-sex marriage.  Through this extensive history, Hume discusses the limited, but important, early court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage and the backlash that occurred as a result of these court decisions, which led to many states passing constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriage.

Hume shifts gears in Part III (chapters 5 -8) of the book by focusing on how some state courts have been able to initiate policy, implement the policy, and ultimately have a long-term effect on the issue of same-sex marriage.  In this section of the book, Hume helps readers understand the different factors that impact state courts’ ability to initiate, implement, and have a lasting impact on same-sex marriage, including institutional, constitutional, ideological, and environmental factors.  Hume also revisits the passage of state constitutional amendments that prohibit same-sex marriage by examining the factors contributing to states passing these amendments.  In the final chapter of the book, Hume summarizes his finding, providing a concise narrative for his readers.  Part III of the book includes extensive data from existing and original surveys to support Hume’s findings.  The data is presented in both chart and narrative form, making it easy for readers to understand the arguments that Hume is making.  Hume’s knowledge of the issues surrounding same-sex marriage and his grasp of the statistics are evident while reading this book but it should be noted that Hume does not hold a J.D. degree.

A review of this book would not be complete without considering its relevance in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions in U.S. v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ____ (2013) and Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), two cases decided after the publication of this book.  With the Court’s decision in Windsor placing the issues of legalizing same-sex marriage and obtaining federal benefits squarely on the states, Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights may play an integral role in determining how to challenge state constitutional amendments that outlaw same-sex marriage.  However, Windsor may also create new ways of challenging marriage inequality in states that were not discussed by Hume, potentially rendering it outdated.  There is no indication that this book will be updated to include a discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court cases mentioned above.  Even without additional discussion of Windsor and Hollingsworth, Courthouse Democracy and Minority Rights will remain useful in providing a historical perspective on the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.

The book concludes with a comprehensive bibliography, table of authorities, and subject index. 

Nancy B. Talley is an Assistant Professor and Reference Librarian at Rutgers University School of Law Library in Camden, New Jersey.

Sources Cited:

1.  U.S. v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ____ (2013).

2.  Hollingsworth v. Perry, 570 U.S. ____ (2013).