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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
May 2024
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Book description

In 1960, consensual sodomy was a crime in every state in America. Fifty-five years later, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the fundamental right to marry. In the span of two generations, American law underwent a dramatic transformation. Though the fight for marriage equality has received a considerable amount of attention from scholars and the media, it was only a small part of the more than half-century struggle for queer family rights. Family Matters uncovers these decades of advocacy, which reshaped the place of same-sex sexuality in American law and society – and ultimately made marriage equality possible. This book, however, is more than a history of queer rights. Marie-Amélie George reveals that national legal change resulted from shifts at the state and local levels, where the central figures were everyday people without legal training. Consequently, she offers a new way of understanding how minority groups were able to secure meaningful legal change.


‘The legalization of same-sex marriage can only be understood as something that happened ‘fast’ by ignoring the critical history this book traces. Family Matters probes the ‘unknown decades’ of legal (and extra-legal) advocacy for LGBT families in the years before same-sex marriage. Among its many fascinating insights is the role that straight as well as gay families played. This is an expansive and important work of scholarship, and one that should be widely read.’

Margot Canaday - author of Queer Career: Sexuality and Work in Modern America

‘Fluidly narrated and marvelously detailed, this is a history of ordinary people transforming law and culture bit by bit as they struggled to gain queer family rights. The book’s focus on the local and state level illuminates the surprising centrality of parent-child relationships in the gradual attainment of gay rights, long before marriage equality became possible.’

Nancy F. Cott - author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation

‘Beginning with battles over the criminalization of queer life and ending with the recognition of same-sex marriage, this important and ambitious book tracks an extraordinary transformation in American law. Family Matters offers an incisive analysis of one of the most consequential shifts in the legal landscape of the last half-century.’

Regina Kunzel - author of In the Shadow of Diagnosis: Psychiatric Power and Queer Life

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