GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As the nation debates the future of gay marriage, students and faculty at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law are preparing for a visit from one of America’s leading authorities on gay rights.
William Eskridge, Jr., the John A. Garver Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School, will deliver this year’s Dunwody Distinguished Lecture in Law at 11 a.m. March 18 on the law school campus. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Eskridge, author of 10 books on gay rights and constitutional law issues — including the 1996 volume The Case for Gay Marriage — is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading scholars on legal issues surrounding gay rights. His work was cited by the Supreme Court in its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which declared state anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional.
“We are honored to host Professor Eskridge as this year’s Dunwody Distinguished Lecturer in Law,” said Cory Andrews, an editor of the Florida Law Review, which organizes the annual lecture. “By attracting eminent legal scholars like Professor Eskridge to its Dunwody Lecture Series, the Review furthers its long-standing commitment to the intellectual life of the Levin College of Law.”
Eskridge’s speech, entitled “Dishonorable Passions: The Crime Against Nature in America,” will focus on Florida’s unique role in the history of the gay rights movement – and on the 1977 debate over a Miami/Dade County ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Led by pop singer Anita Bryant, whose comments about the gay lifestyle earned her nationwide notoriety, South Florida gay rights opponents launched a campaign to have the law repealed – and eventually succeeded. Their success sparked similar movements among social conservatives around the country. The controversy is widely recognized as a pivotal moment in the ongoing political battle over gay rights.
“This is an important slice of history that many people — including a large number Florida law students — don’t know about,” Andrews said.
The Dunwody lecture series was established in honor of brothers Elliot and Atwood Dunwody, both UF law alumni who dedicated their lives to the legal profession and set a standard of excellence for Florida lawyers.
The series brings America’s preeminent legal scholars, selected by the editors of the Florida Law Review, to UF for a lecture every spring semester.
In recent years, Review editors have added interest to the series by selecting speakers on issues that dominate the headlines. Past speakers include Viet Dinh, widely considered the architect of the Patriot Act; cyberspace-law expert Lawrence Lessig; and Erwin Chemerinsky, who recently argued a case on display of the Ten Commandments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Recently, our method has been to find a topic of great interest to the public and then find the top scholar in that field,” Andrews said.
Review editors chose Eskridge because he is “widely known as the top leading scholar on the issue of gay marriage,” Andrews said. He added that Eskridge chose not to speak solely on the topic of gay marriage.
“As I understand it, he is working on a book that outlines the history of gay rights going back to the Colonial period,” Andrews said. “The Miami/Dade ordinance controversy is one of the themes in that book.”
The text of Eskridge’s lecture will be published in an upcoming issue of the Florida Law Review.
The Dunwody Distinguished Lecture in Law series is funded by gifts from the law firm of Dunwody, White and Landon, P.A.; the law firm of Mershon Sawyer, Johnston, Dunwody and Cole; and the U.S. Sugar Corporation.
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