Sexuality and the Law

In the United States, as in many places around the world, sexuality has become front-page news. As demonstrated by the extensive popular media coverage of the debate on same-sex marriage, to take one example, sexuality-related issues are now an important part of mainstream American discourse just as they are central to contemporary discussions about American law. It is clear, moreover, that such debates are as much about the social meanings of sexuality and gender as they are, at a primary level, about the proper role of the law in social relationships. As such, from court actions seeking to render sodomy laws unconstitutional to popular referendums aimed at constitutionalizing heterosexual marriage, law has emerged as both a critical tool of the advocates and as the forum for a key component of the struggle.

This seminar will therefore provide both a legal and social-science perspective on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and justice for purposes of developing the analytic tools necessary to understand, navigate, and apply the relevant black-letter law. To do so we will explore a range of efforts by the United States' legal system to supervise and control sexuality, often through regulation, occasionally through willful silence. At the same time, we will examine a variety of legal, social/cultural, and biological meanings of gender and of sexuality, including ways that these historically changing concepts have been influenced by factors such as race and class. Our focus here will be broad, covering gender and transgender identities in contexts of employment, education, same-sex marriage, new family forms, and sex, among others. Throughout, we will consider how the law understands and translates gender and sexuality; how legal rules, either purposefully or ignorantly, take these concepts into account; and ways in which assumptions about propriety and morality contribute to the constructions of these various legal and social meanings. In the end, our goal is to attain the foundational knowledge needed to become effective advocates and practitioners of the relevant law.

The class will be in a seminar format which will culminate in a 25-page final paper. (For those interested in satisfying their 30-page writing requirement, I will be happy to work with you to achieve that goal and extra time will be allowed for doing so.) Grading will be divided as follows: 10% for attendance and participation; 10% for a one-time reflection paper and presentation; 20% for a partial draft of the final paper; and 60% for the final paper.

Schedule: Please note that this schedule is tentative. The speed with which we will move through the material will depend on the class. Furthermore, the class readings may change in light of current events. I will confirm the specific readings for each session in the preceding class.
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