The Many Passions of Michael Hardwick: Sex, the Supreme Court, and the Right to Be Left Alone tells a story about privacy and liberty framed by “the most important gay rights case in history,” the story of the 1986 Supreme Court case of Bowers v. Hardwick.
But it’s more than a story of the now-infamous case. It’s the long overdue story of the life of Michael Hardwick and his triumph in the face of a conservative notion of justice.
Hardwick, arrested in 1982 for sodomy at a time when half of America had written those laws out of existence, decided to fight for sexual privacy for the queer community and took his battle all the way to the Supreme Court. He lost, in what’s now considered one of the worst decisions ever rendered by the Court, according to its own justices.
In the aftermath of the horrific ruling, and after a brief stint as the public face of queer politics, Michael took back both his sexual and his political privacy and rededicated himself to his spirit and his art before his death from complications from AIDS in 1991.
Through Michael’s life, readers will see how cultures create their own underclasses, how punishment exists in the absence of crime, how activism often consumes its own high priests, and how moral undertakings are snuffed out by legal technicalities. It exposes how fragile our experiment in democracy has been and can be, when the rules are bent or broken—or written by culture warriors oblivious to their own era. It is a matter that resonates as deeply today as it did almost forty years ago.
coming 2024 from W. W. Norton