by Daniel R. Pinello. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 230pp. Cloth. $55.00/£40.00. ISBN: 9780521848565. Paper $19.99/£14.99. ISBN: 9780521613033.

Reviewed by Ellen Ann Andersen, Department of Political Science, Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis. Email: eanderse [at]


The ongoing struggle over whether same-sex couples have a right to marry has created a trenchant and timely opportunity to examine the relationship between law and politics and scholars have been quick to jump at the bait (e.g., Dupuis 2002; Eskridge and Spedale 2006; Gerstmann 2003; Goldberg-Hiller 2002; Hull 2006; Koppelman 2006; Merin 2002; Mohr 2005; Strasser 2002; Wardle, et al. 2003).

Dan Pinello’s new book is a fine addition to this burgeoning catalogue, especially for those seeking a text accessible to undergraduate audiences. AMERICA’S STRUGGLE FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE uses the extraordinary events of 2004 as a jumping off point to explore the emergence and progress of the movement for marriage equality in the United States. Same-sex couples in six different states were afforded the ability to legally marry during that year, even if only briefly. Massachusetts, of course, became the first state in the nation to embrace marriage equality formally in May 2004 when, in response to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in GOODRIDGE v. DEPT. OF PUBLIC HEALTH (2003), it began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (By the end of the year, 6,038 couples had taken the opportunity to wed.) But in the months immediately prior, local officials and governing bodies in five other states had made headlines by issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Before they were forced to cease, officials in San Francisco had issued marriage licenses to 4,037 same-sex couples, officials in Multnomah County (OR) had issued them to 3,024 couples, and officials in Sandoval (NM), New Paltz (NY), and Asbury Park (NJ), had issued licenses to 64, 24, and 7 couples, respectively.

Pinello uses a case study approach to trace the sequence of events leading to the issuance of marriage licenses in five of the states (omitting New Jersey) and the political controversies surrounding those decisions. While he opens and closes with brief studies of events in New Mexico and New York, Pinello’s emphasis is centered on events in Massachusetts, California, and Oregon, and these three case studies are outstandingly rich with detail, emotion, and insight.

Each chapter has its own hook. The Massachusetts chapter begins with this simple question: “What happens politically once courts enter the fray surrounding hot-button social issues such as same-sex marriage?” (p.33). Pinello then guides the reader through the GOODRIDGE litigation and the subsequent legislative debates over amending the Massachusetts constitution to overturn the court’s decision, up [*474] through the 2005 legislature’s decisive rejection of a constitutional amendment it had approved the previous year.

The California chapter is centered on San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the three-week “winter of love” that ensued, and the subsequent decision by the California Supreme Court to void the licenses. Pinello also touches subsequent legislative efforts to extend marriage to same-sex couples although his story stops before the California legislature became the first in the nation to pass a bill extending marriage rights to same-sex couples (the bill was subsequently vetoed by the California governor.)

Oregon is distinguished by being the only state in the nation where same-sex couples were (briefly) allowed to marry and whose citizens were subsequently able to vote on the legitimacy of that action via a constitutional amendment. In 2004, Oregon’s citizens amended their constitution to limit marriage to heterosexual couples, by a vote of 57-43. (Twelve other states passed similar amendments that year.) Pinello’s Oregon chapter discusses the decision by the Multnomah County Commission to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but puts most of its emphasis on the amendment battle that followed.

In each chapter, Pinello makes extensive use of first-person narratives to power his tale and these interviews, which take two forms, are the signal strength of the book. Pinello interviewed key actors in each state, including legislators, county officials, and interest group leaders, and these accounts provide the reader with a birds-eye view of how elite actors variously employ legal, legislative, and electoral tactics as they attempt to manage competing claims about the meaning of marriage. Pinello also interviewed 50 couples in Massachusetts, California, and Oregon who put themselves and their relationships on the front lines of the battle over marriage equality by getting married, and their voices offer an emotionally compelling “bottom-up” counterpoint to the “top-down” perspective of the elite interviews.

The corresponding weakness of the book is its rather slight analytical frame. Pinello claims that he is using the struggle over same-sex marriage as a way to study three recurring themes in political science: (1) the role and impact of courts in a democratic society; (2) the participation and impact of interest groups in a pluralistic polity, and; (3) the sources of, and political responsiveness to, policy initiatives in American government (pp.30-32). While these themes, and more, can be pulled from his account, the book is primarily journalistic, rather than expressly analytical. It rarely engages with existing literature. For example, Pinello’s discussion of interest groups proceeds without a single reference to the voluminous body of scholarship on the subject, nor does he tie his discussion of policy origins and diffusion into the extensive literature on that subject. The analytical weakness of the book is typified by the fact that the list of references runs only three pages long in a 200-page volume. [*475]

The one body of literature that Pinello does engage with is the so-called Rosenberg-McCann debate over whether court decisions have the capacity to effect progressive social reform. In the final chapter of his volume, Pinello assesses the impact of GOODRIDGE, both in Massachusetts and across the nation. Here again he relies heavily on interview data from key political actors and couples who married in Massachusetts, Oregon, and California, but he also reviews the emerging scholarly analyses of GOODRIDGE’s impact on the 2004 presidential elections and its impact on the passage of thirteen statewide constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in 2004. Ultimately he concludes that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in GOODRIDGE decisively tipped the scales toward progressive reform, notwithstanding the very real backlash it engendered. Scholars exploring the question of judicial efficacy will find Pinello’s analysis useful, whether or not they agree with his ultimate conclusion.

That said, the book’s primary value is clearly as a teaching resource. Dan Pinello has written a book that is engaging, easy to read, and appropriate for a variety of different undergraduate classes. It would be a useful text for upper-level courses on judicial or interest group politics, but also for introductory American politics classes, because the book can prompt discussions about so many different facets of American politics in addition to its obvious utility as a primer on a major civil rights issue. The book offers students a chance to think critically about the appropriate relationship of the legislature and the courts in public policy making, as well as giving students a chance to consider the various strategies that interest groups employ in attempting to effect their political goals. But in addition, his chapter on Massachusetts offers a very nice description of the state’s legislative process, one that can easily be compared and contrasted with the processes of other states. His chapters on California and Oregon give students a chance to think about the role of local governments in the American system. The entire book, really, gives students the opportunity to think about what it means to live in a federal system, where legal and political opportunity structures change from state to state. And as a bonus, the book serves as a corrective to the notion that individuals have little power in the political system. In this book, individual actors make a very big difference and the stories they tell will resonate with even the most jaded student.



Eskridge, William N., and Darren R. Spedale. 2006. GAY MARRIAGE: FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE?: WHAT WE’VE LEARNED FROM THE EVIDENCE. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gerstmann, Evan. 2003. SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND THE CONSTITUTION. New York: Cambridge University Press. [*476]

Goldberg-Hiller, Jonathan. 2002. THE LIMITS TO UNION: SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND THE POLITICS OF CIVIL RIGHTS. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Hull, Kathleen. 2006. SAME-SEX MARRIAGE : THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF LOVE AND LAW. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Koppelman, Andrew. 2006. SAME SEX, DIFFERENT STATES: WHEN SAME-SEX MARRIAGES CROSS STATE LINES. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

McCann, Michael W. 1994. RIGHTS AT WORK: PAY EQUITY REFORM AND THE POLITICS OF LEGAL MOBILIZATION. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Mohr, Richard D. 2005. THE LONG ARC OF JUSTICE: LESBIAN AND GAY MARRIAGE, EQUALITY, AND RIGHTS. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rosenberg, Gerald N. 1991. THE HOLLOW HOPE: CAN COURTS BRING ABOUT SOCIAL CHANGE? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Wardle, Lynn D., Mark Strasser, William C. Duncan, and David Orgon Coolidge. 2003. SAME-SEX UNIONS: A DEBATE. Westport, CT: Praeger.


GOODRIDGE v. DEPT. OF PUBLIC HEALTH, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003).

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Ellen Ann Andersen.