AHA Convention: Leading Historians to Address Changing Ideas of Marriage and Family Across Time and Place





15-Session Miniconference,
"Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage,"
Will be Highlight of American Historical Association Annual Meeting in San Diego January 7-10, 2010

"Marriage is so far from having been an institution, fixed by permanent and unalterable laws, that it has been continually varying in every period, and in every country."

- 18th Century author William Alexander

(Washington, DC – December 28, 2010) A unique 15-session miniconference addressing "Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage" will be a highlight of this year’s Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in San Diego, CA January 7-10. The miniconference sessions will involve some of the leading figures in historical research, such as Blanche Wiesen Cooke, John D’Emilio, Michael Grossberg, Ramón Gutiérrez, Alice Kessler Harris, Linda Kerber and many others, and will address a diverse range of topics related to the changing definition of marriage, domestic unions and family throughout history. The sessions are open to the public, and the AHA will publish their findings in 2010.

"One theme that emerges across this diverse range of miniconference panels is that marriage is not a static institution," said AHA President and Harvard University Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. "The Puritans were actually marriage innovators, introducing marriage as a civil contract rather than a sacrament in the 17th Century, and permitting divorce. In this century, it was not until 1949 that the California State Supreme Court struck down racial restrictions on marriage in the state, and not until 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated those restrictions for the country as a whole. We can argue about what marriage should be today…but we cannot argue that marriage has always been the same."

For more than a decade the issue of marriage equality and partnership recognition has been the subject of ongoing social and political debate both in the United States and overseas, with various courts, legislatures and ballot referenda taking different approaches and developing different responses to the question of what constitutes a "marriage." Differing civil and religious views of marriage and family will be addressed by leading scholars in this series of panels intended to bring historical perspectives to the discussion of marriage equality.

The miniconference was developed by the AHA Working Group for Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage. Among the issues to be addressed in the 15-session miniconference are:

Marriage politics in the 21st Century United States (Session 71, "Gay Marriage and Proposition 8: Reflections," Friday, January 8: 2:30-4:30 PM)

Perspectives of different groups who have been denied access to marriage, including gay and lesbian people, the disabled, racial groups and the poor (Session 106, "Access Denied: Comparative Biopolitical Perspectives on Marriage Restriction," Saturday, January 9: 9:00-11:00 AM)

How the issues of gay marriage and gays in the military have intertwined (Session 138, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Marry," Saturday, January 9: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM)

How social institutions, including governments, communities and churches have sought to influence, define and regulate inter-ethnic marriages (Session 174, "Inter-Ethnic Marriage in American Comparative Perspective," Saturday, January 9: 2:30 -4:30 PM)

Relationships between historical and legal arguments in legal cases addressing same-sex marriage. (Plenary Session, "Marriage on Trial: Historians and Lawyers in Same-Sex Marriage Cases," Saturday, January 9: 8:00-10:00 PM)

"Californians have been involved in an ongoing debate about marriage equality since the State Supreme Court granted, and Proposition 8 rescinded, the right to same-sex marriage," noted AHA Executive Director Arnita Jones. "AHA members wanted to contribute to this conversation by doing what historians do best—sharing research and perspectives on how these issues have evolved throughout history. With this year’s special miniconference, we hope to add the power of historical perspective to the global conversation on marriage equality."

"The Working Group for Historical Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage seeks to set the issue in broad historical perspective: chronologically, geographically, and thematically," noted Working Group Chair and University of Southern California Professor of History and American Studies and Ethnicity Karen Halttunen. "Supporters of Proposition 8 argue that the initiative restored the historically consistent definition of marriage. This miniconference challenges this ill-informed idea by presenting a history that does justice to the complexity of human experience over time."

About the American Historical Association

The American Historical Association and its 14,000 members are dedicated to strengthening the practice and teaching of history by promoting historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical objects and the dissemination of historical research. This125-year-old nonprofit membership organization is the oldest and largest association for professional historians in the United States. AHA members include primary school teachers, academics at colleges and universities, graduate students, and historians in museums, libraries and archives. The AHA advocates for historians, fights to ensure academic freedom, monitors professional standards and spearheads essential research in the field.

The program of the 124th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association is available at http://aha.confex.com/aha/2010/webprogram/start.html

For more information, please contact Mark Aurigemma at 212-600-1960 or mark@aucomm.net or Roberta Sklar at (917) 704-6358 or robertasklar@yahoo.com.

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