Public Affairs, 212-854-2650
New York, Apr. 8, 2011—
Professor Katherine Franke
, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School
, has been selected to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship
to write a book that will compare the prominence of the right to marry in today’s gay rights movement with the role of marriage rights for African Americans in the aftermath of enslavement.
The fellowship, from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
, is often characterized as a "mid-career" award, and is intended for those who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or creative ability in the arts.
“The Guggenheim Fellowship will give me a tremendous opportunity to complete this new project,” Franke said. “I have long thought that today’s marriage politics ought to be better informed by the experiences of other subordinated people who had not been allowed to marry in the past. The parallel to formerly enslaved people is obvious by under-explored.”
The book, for which Franke has already completed much of her primary research, compares the marriage-equality rights claims of same-sex couples with what it meant for African Americans to be able to marry for the first time after the Civil War.
“Marriage was explicitly understood as serving a “civilizing function” for newly emancipated people in the immediate post Civil War era,” Franke said. “They were told that the legal discipline of marriage would be a good test of whether former slaves deserved other rights, like that of citizenship. There are some striking parallels to the same-sex marriage movement today and the experiences of former slaves in the 19th century. It could be a situation of be careful what you wish for.”
Franke noted that it was not uncommon for federal officials to force men and women fleeing slavery to marry as a condition of receiving protection from the northern troops. Not knowing the legal implications of marriage (or divorce), these newly wed couples might later split and take up with other people, exposing themselves to frequent arrest but local sheriffs for violating criminal adultery laws.
“My research tells the story of how these new rights-holders were put in prison and then leased out to former slave owners to do agricultural work under conditions that were far worse than they endured during slavery,” Franke said.
In analogizing experiences like those to the battle over same-sex marriage, Franke will examine how by sanctioning marriage, the law can organize private lives in “wonderful and dangerous ways” and subject people to unintended forms of governance by the state and by judgmental neighbors.
“We always need to think about the implications of being subject to legal regulation,” said Franke, who last semester taught a seminar on same-sex marriage. “The desire for rights must be informed by an awareness that they can come at a cost.”
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