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Marquis Scholar Judith Hirx ’06 (Milford, Mass.) is delving into the background and current state of the national debate about same-sex marriage.

A double major in government & law and economics & business, Hirx is undertaking a yearlong research project on that topic in pursuit of departmental honors. Her adviser is Bruce Allen Murphy, Fred Morgan Kirby Professor of Civil Rights, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on constitutional law and civil rights and liberties.

Hirx is striving to show how arguments made in defense of Virginia’s law banning interracial marriages in the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (in which the Court unanimously ruled the Virginia statute unconstitutional) parallel current arguments against same-sex marriage. She’s attempting to establish that there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage in the United States.

“What she’s doing is quite clever,” Murphy says. “She is using the history of an old case in which laws against interracial marriage were struck down to examine the same-sex marriage debate in the 21st century.”

Hirx’s interest in the topic of same-sex marriage was sparked during an internship in the office of Massachusetts state representative Robert Spellane in the summer of 2004.

“I conducted research on this for Representative Spellane and have been interested in the area since then. I get excited at the fact that this is a current topic and something that is very debatable,” says Hirx, who hopes to secure a position in the legislative branch of the federal government or work on the campaign trail during the next federal election season until she can obtain a government position.

“I have worked with legal research through several previous courses I have taken. I believe Lafayette’s political science major is unique in that it incorporates interesting legal classes,” she adds. “Dr. Murphy has been amazing at guiding me. He has a lot of experience analyzing cases and court decisions. He’s always asking, ‘did you hear about this issue or that case?’”

Murphy is author of Wild Bill: The Legend and Life of William O. Douglas(Random House, 2003), a definitive biography of the Supreme Court’s most accomplished and most controversial justice. Wild Bill is Murphy’s third major book on the Supreme Court. His first book, The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection: The Secret Political Activities of Two Supreme Court Justices (Oxford University Press, 1982), was featured in a front-page story in The New York Times and became the subject of a nationwide debate on judicial ethics. Murphy’s second book, Fortas: The Rise and Ruin of a Supreme Court Justice (William Morrow, 1988), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

Murphy says, “She’s taken a real interest in this project because of her experience. It’s a good example of the kind of integration students can find at the culmination of their education at Lafayette. She’s now able to take all of her courses and other experiences, create a capstone research project, and suggest a solution to this national issue.”

On Murphy’s suggestion, Hirx receives daily Google alerts informing her of the most current news on same-sex marriage. “It is such a hot topic these days. Keeping up with it can be challenging because it’s changing every day,” she says.

Hirx looks forward to presenting her research on campus, confident that her argument will not only cause a buzz, but also inform and enlighten students.

“Her next challenge will be to present her argument in a clear, coherent way to people who may not be experts in the field,” Murphy says.

A member of Pi Sigma Alpha and Omicron Delta Epsilon, national honor societies for political science and economics, respectively, in addition to of Phi Beta Kappa, Hirx is secretary and D.C. coordinator of the College’s Kirby Government and Law Society. She is also a tour guide in the Office of Admissions, secretary of Crew Club, and vice president for membership and social chair of Delta Delta Delta sorority.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 39 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Hirx receive a special academic scholarship and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded course abroad or in the United States during January’s interim session between semesters or the summer break. Marquis Scholars also participate in mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty and cultural activities in major cities and on campus.

Categorized in: Academic News