If law is an intellectual feast for Hohengarten, he honed his appetite at Reed. As a brainy and somewhat unorthodox high school student in the Chicago suburbs—he won the title of “most likely to start a revolution for no particular reason”—Hohengarten says Reed appealed to him from the moment he first heard about it. “I loved the idea of a school that was unconventional, but took learning seriously,” he says.
At Reed, Hohengarten plunged into philosophy and history, and learned to handle difficult texts such as Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. “You’re not just on a conveyor belt toward graduation at Reed,” he says. “I had a lot of intellectual curiosity and did not see myself on a conventional career track.” If he had any job in mind, it was that of philosophy professor. His senior thesis was on the political philosophy of Hegel and the young Karl Marx. “I came out for Hegel,” he says, smiling.
Hohengarten had another kind of coming out during his years at Reed—as a gay man. A small community of openly gay students and faculty had developed, he recalls, “but I didn’t really feel part of it. The feminist lesbian thing was more prevalent than two men.” But Reed was a good place to be during this important transition in his life, and he never felt the sting of discrimination. “I was very fortunate,” he says.
And yet, he felt then and still feels now the weight of being viewed as different—and inferior—by society. “I can’t pick up a newspaper,” he says, “without reading that the president or a politician or a minister believes that because of whom I love, I am destroying American culture.”
At a personal level, he was also aware of how often gay people become victims of violence. “Obviously, the vast majority of American citizens are not going to hurt me,” he says. “But you are a ready target. It’s something you internalize at an early age.”
After Reed, Hohengarten won a Fulbright and studied at the Free University of Berlin. It was there that he met David Knudson, his life partner, now an architect in Washington, D.C. Hohengarten returned to the states to study philosophy at Northwestern University.
It was only as he was completing his Ph.D. that Hohengarten decided he wanted to be a lawyer. He had had a full dose of abstractions, and now wanted to apply them in the real world. And he felt ready for a career outside academia. “I went to law school at age 31,” he says. “When I graduated from Reed at 22, I didn’t take the idea of a profession seriously; I would have been concerned that I wouldn’t fit in.”
Yale Law School turned out to be “pretty easy” after Reed, he says. “Reading Hegel makes even the densest legal briefs easy by comparison.” He became notes editor at the Yale Law Journal; one of the notes he wrote emerged as one of the first attempts to lay out the legal arguments in favor of same-sex marriage.
In the piece, he wrote: “Viewed functionally, legal marriage is essentially a binding commitment uniting two intimately related adults, a commitment which sustains the relationship between such adults by structuring their dealings with each other and with third parties. Conceived in this way, marriage is indifferent to the relative genders of its occupants.” The issue is hardly academic for him today. “I’ve wanted to get married for 20 years,” he says, “and my partner and I can’t do that.”
Now, a dozen years later, Hohengarten predicts, “same-sex marriage will slowly be recognized in more and more states, and as people get used to it, it will finally be recognized on a national level.” In states where measures are passed barring same-sex marriage, he sees the spread of civil unions or other legal arrangements that give same-sex couples some of the legal benefits of marriage.