Prof. Geoffrey Stone to discuss same-sex marriage in Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecture

As the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to deliberate on same-sex marriage later this month, Prof. Geoffrey R. Stone, the 2015 Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecturer, will devote his talk to this contentious social and legal issue that could mark one of the high court’s most important rulings this year.

Stone’s presentation, “Sexing the Constitution: Getting to Gay Marriage?” will take place at 5 p.m. on April 22, in the Max Palevsky Cinema in Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th St. The event is open to the public.


The annual Ryerson Lecture grew out of a 1972 bequest to the University by Nora and Edward L. Ryerson, who served as a trustee and then life trustee of the University from 1923 to 1971, and as chairman of the board from 1953 to 1958. Each year, the University’s faculty selects a Ryerson Lecturer who has “made research contributions of lasting significance.”

“It is a tremendous honor to deliver this year’s Ryerson Lecture,” said Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, who is a leading expert on civil rights and constitutional law. As a young faculty member, Stone recalled attending the University’s very first Ryerson Lecture by Prof. John Hope Franklin in 1974, and he says he was “delighted to discover that he knows—or knew—all 42 of the distinguished scholars and teachers who have had the privilege of delivering this lecture before him.”

In his speech, Stone will explore historical attitudes to homosexuality and how laws discriminating against homosexuals first came to be seen as raising possible constitutional questions. Furthermore, he will explain how the nation’s high court, building on a long line of earlier decisions involving such issues as sterilization, contraception, miscegenation, abortion and discrimination against women, has now come to the threshold of recognizing a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry—a position that would have been unimaginable in the first 200-plus years of American constitutional history.

“In the past year, 29 judicial decisions have held that bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional,” Stone said. “This is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Stone, who has recently served on President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, has written extensively about constitutional law, including Speaking Out: Reflections of Law, Liberty and Justice (2010); Top Secret: When Our Government Keeps Us in the Dark (2007); War and Liberty: An American Dilemma (2007); Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime (2004); and Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era (Chicago 2002).

Among Stone’s books, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, received numerous awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Award for the Human Rights Book of the Year; the Los Angeles Times Book Prize as the Best Book in History; and the Goldsmith Award from the Kennedy School of Harvard University for the Best Book of the Year in Public Affairs.

Stone’s next book, Sexing the Constitution, examines the history of sex, religion, law and the Constitution, and is the basis for his Ryerson Lecture. He is currently chief editor of a 20-volume series titled, Inalienable Rights (Oxford University Press), of which 13 volumes have been published.

A graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, Stone served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. He joined the UChicago faculty in 1973 and served as provost from 1994 to 2002, and dean of the Law School from 1987 to 1994.

Every year since 1974, a faculty committee has selected a distinguished faculty colleague to deliver the Ryerson Lecture. Recent lecturers include:

John. A. Goldsmith (2014), Michael. S. Turner (2013), Thomas Holt (2012), Jean Comaroff (2011), Shulamit Ran (2010) and John Cacioppo (2009).