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A judicial decision striking down formalized discrimination marks a crucial moment for those it affects and, in some instances, for the surrounding society as well. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was unquestionably one of those instances.

This essay considers the distinct ways in which the civil rights and social movements for marriage equality gave rise to this durable socio-political transformation. While some scholarship is skeptical about whether rights-focused advocacy can bring meaningful change to people’s day-to-day lives, I argue that the marriage equality movements demonstrate a synergistic relationship between law reform and social change efforts. During the decades leading up to Obergefell, two movements – one focused primarily on law and the other on social acceptance – had a strong coalescence in their goals and desires. Legal action functioned as a lever for social movement engagement, and the growing social movement desire for marriage prompted further legal action, all ultimately resulting in the landscape that made Obergefell possible.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Constitutional Law | Jurisprudence | Labor and Employment Law | Law