June 12, 2013
by Veronica Gockenbach ‘14
Author and scholar Jason Pierceson, a 1994 Knox College graduate, recently returned to campus to discuss the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.
Pierceson, who majored in history at Knox, is associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. He has written several books on same-sex marriage and was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Fellowship in 2011 to research Canada's legal and political systems.
His May 13 lecture at Knox, "Same-Sex Marriage in the U.S.: The Road to the Supreme Court," was supported by the office of the Dean of the College.
Pierceson said that legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States has been difficult because of resistance by religious groups and because of federalism, the political system under which powers are shared by national and state governments. Marriage in this country is defined predominantly at the state level, he added.
The United States has been "behind the curve," compared to Canada and other countries, when it comes to legalizing same-sex marriage, he said.
"There is no federal recognition," Pierceson said. "No federal tax benefits, no Social Security benefits, no military benefits. Over 1,000 rights and benefits that come with marriage are denied by the Defense of Marriage Act."
The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which has been in effect for almost 20 years, defines marriage as occurring between a man and a woman.
In a legal case that Pierceson called a "breakthrough," the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled in April 2009 that same-sex marriage was required by the state Constitution.
"The court viewed the issue as a civil rights issue, not as an issue of traditional morality and religion," he said.
Pierceson said that despite such progress, same-sex marriage will not be recognized nationwide unless the U.S. Supreme Court -- which is expected to rule soon in two cases involving marriage equality -- moves more aggressively toward legalization.
Yet because of changing perceptions of homosexuality and gender norms, public opinion will likely move toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, especially with younger generations, he added.
John Budding, a Knox senior from Grinnell, Iowa, said he found Pierceson's lecture "to be enlightening. The discussion confirmed my opinions, but it also showed that it was more about federalism and the number of states involved, rather than just a religious issue."