The Sharon Kowalski Case
Lesbian and Gay Rights on Trial
Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction, Finalist
While car-crash victim Sharon Kowalski lay comatose in the hospital, battle lines were drawn between her parents and her lesbian companion Karen Thompson, initiating a nearly decade-long struggle over the guardianship of Kowalski. The ensuing litigation became a rallying point for gays and lesbians frustrated by laws and social stigmas that treated them as second-class citizens. Considered the most compelling case of his lifetime by the late Tom Stoddard, former executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the Kowalski legal saga also resonated deeply among AIDS patients who worried that they too might be legally deprived of their partners' care.
“Charles’s compelling and crucial study should also appeal to the general public, including lesbians and gays, and to activists in human rights: lesbians and gays, women, the disabled, and persons of color.^”
—Journal of Lesbian Studies
“A valuable addition to the field of LGBT studies and to the burgeoning area of scholarly interest in sexuality and the law. . . . Interesting, accessible, and important.”
—Committee on Lesbian and Gay HistorySee all reviews...
“A rich and gripping account of this courtroom drama and its implications for lesbian and gay rights. . . . Charles constructs a compelling narrative while still allowing all the participants to speak for themselves. In debates about same-sex marriage, hospital visitation rights almost always come up, showing that Karen Thompson’s 1983 hospital-room nightmare continues to haunt any dream of full equality. [This book] shows how much has changed—and how much has not.”
—The Gay & Lesbian Review
“This excellent work shows that the lengthy legal battle over the guardianship of the brain-damaged Sharon Kowalski was as important for the legal autonomy of disabled Americans as it was for the recognition of the partnerships of lesbian and gay Americans. In an account that makes outstanding use of legal documents, interviews with the case’s key actors, and its extensive coverage in the gay and mainstream press, Charles presents a thorough overview of a case that touched on complex areas of the law as it meandered through the Minnesota courts. . . . Essential.”
“An important account. . . . Charles’s investigation is thorough and utilizes court documents, newspaper archives, medical records. . . . The case spotlights the need for ongoing dialogue about what it means to love. Sharon Kowalski and Karen Thomposon—unlikely poster kids—exemplify the battle to expand the definition of family. In addition, Ms. Thompson should be lauded for reminding us of the difference one person can make in standing up to injustice and bigotry.”
—New York Law Journal
“Charles manages to recount the details of this decade-long legal struggle in clear, concise language, while telling the stories of the people involved with admirable objectivity and compassion. . . . If there is a subtext to this book, it is that ever-pervasive issue of the closet. The author makes a potent argument for opening that door; otherwise, another same-gender-loving survivor could be standing outside the hospital door reading the ‘Family Only’ sign.”
“The book details not only the Sharon Kowalski case, but the recent history of GLBT legal issues, and makes it clear that we all need to stay on the pointy edge of this issue.”
—The Liberty Press
“This case became a legal landmark in the annals of lesbian and gay rights movements. . . . I ask you, dear reader, to put aside any prejudices you may have and read the book. It is more than a case of lesbian and gay people struggling for their rights. It is a case of love, determination, dedication, and care for an incapacitated person that requires 24-hour attention, that, many families, heterosexual or homosexual, are simply unable to provide.”
—Polish American Journal
“Charles’s extraordinary and compelling account of the Kowalski case is especially significant as part of the larger story of the developing movement for the legal recognition of the human rights of gays and lesbians. He tells this story extremely well, showing us how difficult and frustrating such a struggle can be, not least because homophobic prejudices often distort both the relevant findings of fact and the interpretations of law. . . . An important contribution that should appeal to scholars of history and law, concerned citizens, and activists in diverse fields of human rights, including not only gay/lesbian activists, but feminists and persons of color.”
—David A. J. Richards, author of Identity and the Case for Gay Rights: Race, Gender, Religion as Analogies
“An intelligent and insightful investigation into the history, activism, law, and personalities involved in the landmark Sharon Kowalski case. Charless work illuminates the complex and highly personal struggles to obtain—and articulate—the continuing struggles for LGBT rights. How much has changed in twenty years! How much has not!”
—Ruthann Robson, Professor of Law at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law and author of Sappho Goes to Law School and Lesbian (Out)lawSee fewer reviews...
A gripping story of love and law, The Sharon Kowalski Case chronicles one of the true landmarks in the fight for the rights of same-sex partners, fully framed for the first time within its social, political, and historical contexts. Drawing on trial transcripts, medical records, newspaper archives, and personal interviews, Casey Charles goes well beyond Thompson's own highly personal account in Why Can't Sharon Kowalski Come Home? In the process, he brings to life emotions and personalities that dominated the courtroom dramas and illuminates the highly contested judgments emerging from supposedly "objective" authorities in journalism, medicine, and the law.
Charles weaves together various versions of the story to show how one isolated dispute in Minnesota became part of a larger national struggle for gay and lesbian rights in an era when the movement was coming of age both legally and politically. His account recalls the rough road lesbians and gay men have had to travel to gain legal recognition, examines how the law is politicized by the social stigma attached to homosexuality, and demonstrates how conflicted the decision to "come out" can be for lesbians and gays who view "the closet" as both prison and refuge.
For Charles himself—as a gay man with HIV—this story greatly transcends mere academic interest and necessarily addresses the broader implications for lesbians and gay men for legal recognition. His book should be both instructional and inspirational to all readers concerned with the evolution of civil liberties—especially for lesbians, gays, and the disabled—in America today.