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    10.15.15 Professor Cynthia Godsoe in Yale Law Journal on the ‘perfect plantiffs’ in the same-sex marriage case
    photo of a professor

    In her essay “Perfect Plaintiffs,” which appears in The Yale Law Journal Forum (Oct. 12), Professor Cynthia Godsoe examines the care in which the Supreme Court selected its plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges,  and how “acutely aware” the Court was of public opinion and its own historic legacy.

    These factors played a key role in the ascent of marriage equality, argues Professor Godsoe, in her commentary on the 30 plaintiffs in the case. She also looks back at other historic plaintiffs whose stories proved pivotal in the ultimate legal rulings.

    “While the plaintiff selection and framing undoubtedly contributed to the Supreme Court’s historic Obergefell decision, it also reflects a missed opportunity to celebrate the diversity of all families,” Godsoe writes. “Both sides have posted children’s interests at the heart of the marriage debates, and it is not a coincidence that close to two-thirds of the plaintiffs are parents, much higher than the proportion among the LGB population. Finally, the plaintiffs describe themselves as ‘accidental activists.’ The facts that all were carefully chosen, and many had been active in LGB organizations before belies this claim. Nonetheless, outsider political status bolsters the overall message that, in one plaintiff’s words: ‘we’re just as boring… and loud as any other family… people [should] see that we’re normal.’”

    Godsoe argues that the same qualities that render the “faces” of marriage equality so appealing risk undercutting broader claims for familial recognition. Godsoe celebrates this victory for families, and applauds the skilled and dedicated advocacy that led to this moment.

    As scholars and advocates turn to the aftermath of the Obergefell decision, Godsoe points out, “a more representative and varied depiction of families can open up possibilities for the myriad ways people come together, love, and care for each other.”

    Professor Godsoe teaches courses in family law, criminal law, children and the law, professional responsibility and public interest lawyering. Her scholarship centers on the regulation of intimate behavior and gender roles through family and criminal law, encompassing topics including the path to marriage equality, the designation of victims and offenders in intimate violence, the public vs. private family law systems, and the criminalization of non-conforming girls.

    Read the essay.