Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.

Historians in the News
tags: Supreme Court, gay history, LGBT, gay marriage

Related Link Q&A: Evergreen historian Stephanie Coontz talks about the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling

Years ago I was a co-host of a fundraising dinner when one of the 20 guests pulled me aside to tell me what I already knew — that it was the other co-host everybody had come to see.

“No offense, but she’s a total rock star!” the guest enthused.

None was taken. But I do wish now I’d taken notes on what that co-host had said, and what questions the audience asked of her. Because she was onto something big. Like national, epic-historical big.

That total rock star is an Evergreen State College history professor named Stephanie Coontz. She has taught there since 1974, which is just three years shy of the school’s entire life span. She’s made a name for herself as a writer on the family, women and marriage.

Last week her signature work “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage” served as a surprising backbone for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court majority ruling legalizing gay marriage. He cited Coontz twice directly. But beyond that, his entire opinion adopts themes about the changing nature of marriage that Coontz has explored through multiple books and 40 years of seminars at the Olympia alternative school.

It means a Reagan Republican appointee, in one of the biggest civil-rights rulings of our time, ended up channeling a “Greener,” as they call themselves at Evergreen.

How weird is that?

“It was definitely exciting, and unexpected,” Coontz says. “I’m just thrilled to see a case where you can say: ‘Hey, history matters!’ ” ...

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