If most young people support gay marriage, and if there are clear indicators that a majority of the population will support it in the very near future, why is the backlash so strong? As Michael Klarman will show in From the Closet to the Altar, it is because its proponents have adopted a court-centered approach for advancing their cause. In many states, advocates have taken to the courts and argued that bans on gay marriage are denials of civil rights. They have followed the path ofearlier civil rights advocates, who also chose the court rather than the political arena as a forum to decide issues. But as Klarman shows, this tactic comes with clear costs. Using the courts to leapfrog public opinion can actually set a cause back because court decisions generate backlashes. Usually, judgesare neither elected nor beholden to public opinion, and they are easily pegged as unaccountable elites by opponents. Klarman, who has examined virtually every state-level judicial decision and all of the legislative attempts to overturn same-sex marriage, contends that the movement has in many respects not only hurt its own cause by generating populist backlash, but has created a countervailing social movement that works against progressive causes on a host of other issues. Given theirreversible tectonic shift in public opinion regarding the issue, he argues that it will occur anyway. By providing such fuel to its opponents (much like with Roe v. Wade), the movement is in danger of creating a powerful countermovement that will use the issue for proponents of gay rights for years tocome. Concise yet sweeping in scope, From the Closet to the Altar is not only a worthy successor to his Bancroft Prize-winning From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, it will reshape how we think about the issue.
Same-sex marriage has become one of the most volatile issues in American politics. But if most young people support gay marriage, and if there are clear indicators that a substantial majority of the population will soon favor it, why has the outcry against it been so strong?