What’s Love Got to Do With It: Intersections of the Personal and Political in The Bostonians and Obergefell v. Hodges

Main Article Content

Madeline Decker


In 2015, the United States Supreme Court relied on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to establish the legality of same-sex marriage in its monumental Obergefell v. Hodges decision. However, in the opinion of the Court, as if disregarding the government’s role in regulating and renegotiating the confines of marriage in this decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy persistently depicts marriage as a deeply intimate tie. In doing so, Justice Kennedy perpetuates an ideology of privacy that has shaped the conceptualization of marriage in the American imagination since the nineteenth century. In The Bostonians (1886), Henry James challenges this ideology, questioning the extent to which our experiences of and decisions about intimate relationships are truly private. Exploring the complex relational tensions that unfold among a Bostonian activist, a young feminist prodigy, and a Southern traditionalist, James reveals ways in which the public in fact constantly interacts with and influences the private sphere. Through the tragedy that unfolds in The Bostonians, James demonstrates how an unawareness of this mediation can compromise experiences of individual identity and intimacy. Reading Obergefell v. Hodges alongside The Bostonians, I argue that, in obfuscating the ways in which the public exerts influence over individuals and intimate ties, the rhetoric of privacy employed by the opinion of the Court in Obergefell v. Hodges in fact jeopardizes the liberty the Court ostensibly seeks to extend.

Article Details