To Say 'I Do': Shahar v. Bowers, Same-Sex Marriage, and Public Employee Free Speech Rights
Bryan H. Wildenthal
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
September 19, 1999
Georgia State University Law Review, Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 381, 1998
Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 181790
This article deals not with the political and legal debate over gay marriage (civil same-sex marriage) as such, but rather with certain legal issues raised by marriage as a cultural and linguistic concept when applied to gay or lesbian couples. The article begins with a comprehensive overview of Shahar v. Bowers, 114 F.3d 1097 (11th Cir. 1997), which upheld then-Georgia State Attorney General Michael Bowers's revocation of Robin Shahar's employment as a staff attorney in his state office, because of her religious marriage ceremony with her female partner. The article then analyzes the case's free speech implications, an issue not pressed by Shahar but arguably central to the case. It argues that a ceremony like Shahar's, even if not recognized as a legal marriage, is, among other things, a constitutionally protected speech act.
The article generally explores the legal, cultural, and linguistic struggle over the word "marriage," and the intriguing dichotomy and overlap between the public and private character of such speech, as with all speech regarding sexual orientation and gay identity. In the process, the article criticizes, and proposes some refinements of, the law governing public employee speech rights.
The article concludes by analyzing the importance of the Shahar case in particular, and free speech rights in general, to legal strategies in defense of the liberty and integrity of gay people.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 79
Keywords: marriage, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, lesbian marriage, religious marriage, civil marriage, gay and lesbian rights, free speech, freedom of religion
JEL Classification: K10
Date posted: September 19, 1999 ; Last revised: December 31, 2014