BR Blog

June 30, 2015 Same-Sex Marriage Is Not Sexual Liberation Judith Levine

At City Hall in Manhattan. Image: erin m.

The plaintiffs who moved the Supreme Court to grant homosexuals “equal dignity” in marriage under the U.S. Constitution were the bereaved widower of a man who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, an Army lifer and his male partner, and a couple of lesbians so devoted to children that they adopted three with severe disabilities.

Like the nine African Americans whose murder in Charleston has persuaded white America finally to consider doing something about racism—“good people, decent people, God-fearing people,” President Barack Obama called the church members—they were as innocent as victims could be.

And like the families of the slain, the gay and lesbian petitioners forgive the people and institutions that have hurt them. Indeed, they “respect [marriage] so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves,” writes Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. All they want is “not to be condemned to live in loneliness”—apparently the fate of unmarried people. Yet because of “their immutable nature,” they have no option but same-sex matrimony.

In other words, these people did not choose their plight; they do not...

June 30, 2015 Letter to the Editor: The Moynihan Report at Fifty Daniel Geary

In his recent essay on the Moynihan report, Stephen Steinberg sees out of only one eye. He perceptively notes how conservatives have used the report—then and now—to redirect attention from racial injustice toward alleged family dysfunction. He correctly observes the crucial and overlooked influence of Nathan Glazer and Beyond the Melting Pot on Moynihan. And he rightly pinpoints those elements of the report—such as the “Moynihan’s scissors” graph—that undercut any case for “national action.”

Moynihan’s commitment to racial equality was more than “vacuous.”

But the liberal aspects of the report are occluded from Steinberg’s vision. Moynihan’s commitment to racial equality was more than “vacuous.” Were it not, it would be impossible to understand why the report was positively received by civil rights leaders Whitney Young and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as socialist Michael Harrington. Steinberg incorrectly writes that Moynihan “adamantly opposed any suggestion of equality of outcomes that might entail preferential treatment.” In truth, the first chapter of the Moynihan report explicitly accepts the Civil Rights Movement’s demand for “equality” as well as “liberty.”...

June 30, 2015 Translation: The Mangled Braid Nick Admussen

Photo: Stuart Caie

A participant in a translation workshop I run recently completed a translation of a short story by Sheng Keyi that has the following sentence: "To cut off the hands or chop off the legs, to scoop out the eyes or to lop off the ears . . . he realized that mangling someone was even harder than murdering someone." Your taste may be different than mine, but I find the music of this sentence to be beautiful—heavily rhythmic, consonant, orderly yet textured. In Chinese, Sheng Keyi's prose is poetic literary writing of high caliber, but because "hands, legs, eyes and ears" are all single-syllable words in English ("eyes" and "ears" have two syllables in Chinese) and the "chop/scoop/lop" rhymes are new in the English—the translator, Samantha Hawkins, swears this was an accident—the weird sensation of singing about something horrible is a little sharper and more disorienting in the English version.

Translation is always other than its original: even if it is unimpeachably faithful, a translated story will feel and act differently in a new language. Often, our desire for originals and translations to be intimately connected prevents us from enjoying...

June 26, 2015 Looking Back on the Struggle for Marriage Equality Boston Review

A march for marriage equality. Photo: eatswords

Today, marriage was affirmed as a constitutional right for same-sex couples in the United States. The Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges means that states have neither the right to ban same-sex marriages nor to refuse the recognition of those performed in other states.

This has been a long struggle, and Boston Review has covered it from many angles over the years.

Amid challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2011, Pam Karlan pointed out that timing is key because the Supreme Court listens to the public. The national political climate inspires new legal interpretations. Karlan found evidence in other landmark Supreme Court decisions, noting that the Court often reflects progressive social change rather than precipitating it. In the case of same-sex marriage, public opinion had shifted rapidly, and she predicted that such a sea change would end up factoring into the justices’ decisions.

Other contributors have focused more closely on the institution of marriage itself. In her 2011 article, Nancy Cott addresses opponents of same-sex marriage arguing from tradition,...

June 26, 2015 Same-Sex Marriage Yes, Adultery No: Trends in American Opinion Claude S. Fischer

Image: Wedding c. 1902, Library of Congress.

Recent reports by the Gallup organization (hereherehere) have stressed that Americans’ views on personal morality issues have moved “left,” by which, I assume, they mean toward permissiveness. (Since libertarians would be the most permissive of all and are usually put on the “right,” this kind of geometry confuses.) More Americans polled in 2015 than in 2001 say they accept, for example, premarital sex, out-of-wedlock births, and, most dramatically, gay marriage. There is notable exception to this permissive trend: views on extramarital sex. The percentage of Gallup respondents who said that was “morally acceptable” was 7 in 2001 and 8 in 2015.

Gallup’s non-trend for adultery puzzled some, including the Gallup folks...