Davidson in the World 2: A Look at Marriage Equality from a Yale Law Professor’s Podium and the U.S. Supreme Court Bench

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Exploring the hot spots where the rubber meets the road between “the world of Davidson” and “Davidson in the world” is a cinch during Alumni Reunion Weekend, which is going on even as I type this post in between attending and staffing events (I got to be the guy with the bullhorn this year for class pictures in Belk Arena!).

A full range of returning classes (years ending in 8 and 3 this year) bring a perfect balance of what Davidson is today back to the nourishing bosom of alma mater. All I have to do is listen and take notes as Davidson in the world comes home to the world of Davidson.

Everybody in my office is always wanting to borrow my fabulous Big Gay Umbrella, aka the Big Bumbershoot of Diversity, courtesy of Bill Eskridge ’73.

On Friday, after I went to a presentation on “Strengthening Healthcare in Tanzania,” I dropped in on another back-to-school class “The Path Toward Marriage Equality and the Role of the Judiciary” with Bill Eskridge ’73, John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School. He seemed pleased that I still have the Big Gay Umbrella, aka Big Rainbow Bumbershoot of Diversity that he bought me as a gift at the historic Lambda Rising Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Bill made Davidson history himself on campus a decade ago as the keynote speaker at the first official college alumni weekend offered specifically for the LGBTQ community. (That stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning, for those of you who are, you know, questioning what it means. Some people add an extra Q for “queer,” but that just seems a bit much, given all the preceding options available.)

Eskridge is still questioning and still making and teaching history. With books on the topic and amicus briefs and personal friendships in the Supreme Court, he’s in the know about marriage equality especially. On Friday, he had a packed classroom simultaneously in stitches and seriously rapt as he traced the recent (and not so recent) progress (and not so much) of the marriage equality issue in the United States. His U.S. map outline on the whiteboard behind him took on a rainbow of magic marker hues during the hour, evolving alongside Eskridge’s expertly practiced patter, exuberantly improvised impersonations and pithily scathing indictments of the sundry political parade of American current events.

“The Defense of Marriage Act is one of the more irresponsible statutes the Congress has passed,” he said to murmurs of approval, “and that is a very competitive category,” he finished to howls.

Eskridge clearly enjoys being scathing, and he delivers his own best support in flashes from his Google-like brain  full of legal precedents and arcane tidbits. He is a judicial scholar who posits that what the Supreme Court does on the matter at hand is of less importance than the grassroots approval Americans are already showing state by state in support of marriage equality, and how that will translate up the political line, he predicts, for de facto marriage equality in many important ways nationwide by the early 2020s. (Perhaps less so, or slower anyway, in the South, but it’s coming.) How it will all play out at the judicial and federal levels is still a question, and he’s happy to oblige by exploring it.

“Law professors love procedure,” he said. “Procedure is going to be our handmaiden in this particular case.”

Coming up: Berklee College of Music President Roger Brown ’78 on “The Transformation of Music and Education,” Athletic Director Jim Murphy ’78 on the A-10 Conference, and President Carol Quillen on everything. Stay tuned….





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