The Limits to Union

Same-Sex Marriage and the Politics of Civil Rights
Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller
Offers a case study of the same-sex marriage debate in Hawaii to discuss wider questions of political import


From its legal recognition in Hawaii in 1993, the idea and possibility of same-sex marriage has been a fuse that has ignited political controversy across the United States to the world. This controversy sets forces championing the expansion of court-ordered rights against conservative and religious partisans who no longer accept the rationale for expanding civil rights. The Limits to Union explores this incendiary debate and explains the political discourses and tactics that overturn decisions of state courts favorably inclined toward same-sex marriage and gay rights. The opposition of public majorities to court-mandated rights is shown to be an enduring yet postmodern manifestation of political sovereignty, one with broad implications for how we must now come to think about civil rights.

Building on developments in postmodern, postcolonial, and queer legal theory, Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller argues that the controversy over legal rights for same-sex marriages has exploded onto the American stage in response to deep-seated anxieties over the fragmented nature of community, changing social hierarchies, and economic and national security in the face of globalization. He shows that the legal fate of the same-sex marriage is more than an issue of the social and political acceptance of lesbians and gays as it rapidly becomes a central site for re-imagining the contours of political sovereignty.

This book will appeal to advanced undergraduate and graduate students in sociolegal studies, political science, sociology, and gay and lesbian studies.

Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawai'i.

Praise / Awards

  • "A major work of sociolegal scholarship, Goldberg-Hiller moves effortlessly between local struggles and global debates in his analysis of the movement for same-sex marriage rights. Interrogating key concepts such as sovereignty, contract, status and culture itself, the author provides a deeply textured and nuanced analysis of the politics of marriage, law, and sexuality. Goldberg-Hiller has documented a legal struggle and an historical moment of great significance."
    —Carl Stychin, University of Reading

  • "Insightful, interdisciplinary, and theoretically wide-ranging. Goldberg-Hiller explores the 'declining salience of abstract rights amid a surging sovereignty politics.' The Limits to Union provides a welcome and much needed political economy of lesbian and gay marriage—in its local, national, and global manifestations. A breath of fresh air, an essential read, and an impressive achievement."
    —Didi Herman, Keele University

  • ". . . a superb book about the complexities of recent political struggles over same-sex marriage. Goldberg-Hillier offers a sophisticated account of egalitarian rights advocacy and the reaction it has generated from established majorities animated by a 'new common sense' of exclusionary sovereign authority. The author's analysis is multidimensional and nuanced, but the core argument is bold, important, and well supported. I recommend it very highly to everyone interested in understanding the character, possibilities, and constraints of civil rights amid our contemporary culture wars."
    —Michael McCann, University of Washington

  • "Goldberg-Hiller presents the history of the same-sex marriage question since it first sparked debate in Hawaii. He follows the shifting debate through court cases, state propositions, and state and federal legislatures, considering questions about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and the concept of equal protection under the law for gays and lesbians. This detailed treatment of the legal issues surrounding same-sex marriages is highly recommended..."
    —R. L. Abbott, University of Evansville, CHOICE, Volume 40, No. 3 (November 2002)

  • ". . . this book is an important contribution to our understanding of the social forces that oppose not just same-sex marriage, but civil rights more generally. . . . The Limits to Union is a valuable contribution to the field, situating the gay marriage debate in broader contexts of theory, law and practice. Although same-sex marriage is an important issue in and of itself, it is an issue that finds itself caught in the friction points of much larger debates over the nature of rights, the limits of sovereignty and the proper role of courts and law in a democratic society. It should therefore be of interest even to those who do not think of themselves as interested in gay and lesbian rights issues."
    —Evan Gerstmann, Loyola Marymount University, Law and Politics Book Review, Volume 12, No. 4 (April 2002)

  • "In this excellent book, Golberg-Hiller uses Hawaii's experience to examine the interaction between courts and the political system...Relying on briefs, legislative statements, and interviews with activists from both sides of the question, he views this familiar debate...through the unfamiliar prism of gay marriage, which allows him to gauge the viability and the pliability of the American civil rights ideal, and how gay and lesbian issues fit (or don't fit) within that ideal."
    —William Heinzen, New York Law Journal, August 21, 2002

Look Inside

Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 304 pages.
  • 4 B&W photographs, 6 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02274-8

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