From Book Editor to Lawyer, a Gamble Pays Off
Judith McCarthy graduates from Rutgers School of Law-Newark with a position at a national firm....
Rutgers Study Shows Depleted Fish Stocks Can Come Back from the Brink
Fish stocks that have been depleted for decades can find their own way back to healthy levels if timely limits are put on their catch, Rutgers scientists say.
- Politics, Law and Public Policy;
- University News
Pioneering Rutgers-Camden Law Course Traces History of Legal Struggles within LGBT Community
CAMDEN — One of the most controversial areas of civil rights law is the equality, privacy, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual individuals. It’s also one of the oldest.
A group of students at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden is tracing the history of the discriminatory laws that have challenged the rights of the LGBT community in a pioneering course being offered for the first time at Rutgers–Camden.
“Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals in American Law and History” follows the many threads of the legal struggles of the LGBT community from the 17th century through present day.
“It’s the civil rights issue of the 21st century and it plays into so many areas of law,” says N.E.H. Hull, a distinguished professor of law at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden who teaches the course.
“It comes up in many different contexts, like constitutional rights and state law and legislation,” Hull says. “Frankly, it’s crucial to have some background on the history of gay rights issues because the likelihood they come up in legal practice today is very strong.”
The Rutgers–Camden law students taking the class say they are most interested in how current discriminations against the LGBT community can be traced back to old sodomy laws, which were completely invalidated in the landmark Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.
“This class has been really effective in tracing sodomy laws and their relationship to the stigma people have toward homosexuality,” says Colleen McCafferty, a second-year Rutgers–Camden law student from Philadelphia. “Seeing how laws have hindered rights throughout history is really beneficial to understanding gay rights today.”
Jessica Starkman, a third-year Rutgers–Camden law student from Cherry Hill, adds, “One thing I find interesting about LGBT law in general is that it’s considered a very new subject, but in reality, it has a long history.”
Recent class discussions have included 19th and early 20th century attitudes towards “Boston marriages,” which describe two women living together independent of financial support from a man. Those living arrangements were never thought of as sexual in nature and were actually preferred to unmarried men and women living together.
Sentiment began to change, however, after a number of Boston marriages gained notoriety from the media, including one instance in which a woman named Ethel Kimball posed as a man and married a woman.
Hull says as women’s rights began to take shape and women found jobs, cropped their hair short, started wearing pants, and even adopted Bohemian culture, attitudes toward relationships between females changed.
“This all led to stricter laws concerning female relationships,” Hull says.
The class has discussed efforts to censor 1920s literature and theater productions that indicated homosexual relationships because they feared women would be attracted to the lifestyle. It has also focused on the history of homosexuals serving in the military, and the right of LGBT individuals to teach in public schools, adopt children, and get married.
Students in the class examine how those laws have changed, how the LGBT culture has changed over time, and how the law has reacted to those changes.
Hull, the author of numerous books related to legal history, including the forthcoming The Woman Who Dared to Vote: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony (spring 2012; University Press of Kansas), says courses like the one offered at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden are starting to become a regular part of law school curricula nationwide and LGBT rights tend to pop up during lessons in other classes.
“Knowing the history of gay rights helps us understand what strategies work in getting it accepted among policymakers,” says Ellen Camburn, a second-year Rutgers–Camden law student from Ocean City.
Stephanie DeLuna, a third-year law student from New York, says, “For me, the class has raised more awareness of the discriminations brought against the LGBT community.”
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse