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Sex and the Constitution by Geoffrey R. Stone

Robert P Holley


The title, Sex and the Constitution, minimizes both the scope and importance of this book. Even the subtitle, Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century, does not completely correct the misimpression about its content. More than a legal treatise, this book examines sexual behavior from the beginning of Western civilization as well as how various cultures have informally and legally regulated sexual behavior. As the title indicates, the emphasis is on the US Constitution and its interpretation. In part 1, “Ancestors,” Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, summarizes sex and the law from the ancient world to the Christian era, concluding with the Enlightenment in England. Part 2, “Founders,” crosses the Atlantic to recount the diverse, surprisingly unfettered sexual proclivities of the American colonists and how the founding fathers dealt with individual freedoms in the Constitution. Traditional morality returns in part 3, “Moralists,” as religious beliefs, starting in the 1790s, dominate the culture and its laws; but cracks begin to appear in the 1950s at the conclusion of this section. The final three parts of the book focus explicitly on how judges have interpreted the Constitution in the areas of sexual expression, reproductive freedom, and sexual orientation from around 1960 to the present.

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