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  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Steven Mintz: DOMA Ruling Proves History Still Matters

    Steven Mintz, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life and Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, signed the American Historical Association brief.At a time when many question the relevance of history,  it is noteworthy that the U.S. Supreme Court case that prohibited  the federal government from undercutting a state’s decision to extend "the recognition, dignity and protection" of marriage to same-sex couples, hinged on arguments advanced by professional historians.Rarely have historians played as important a role in shaping the outcome of a public controversy as in the same-sex marriage cases. Legal, family, women's, and lesbian and gay historians provided key evidence on which U.S. v. Windsor ultimately turned: that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) represented an unprecedented and improper federal intrusion into a domain historically belonging to the states. As Justice Kennedy affirmed, "the federal government, through our history, has deferred to state law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations."

  • Originally published 06/28/2013

    AHA Amicus Brief Ignores Radical Queer History

    The perspective on the history and politics of same-sex marriage crystallized in the AHA amicus brief both reflects and helps to reproduce a much broader and worrying process: the narrowing of the queer political field to variants of liberalism such that a left critique becomes increasingly difficult to voice.

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    Mary L. Dudziak: Windsor: LGBT version of Reed v. Reed?

    Mary L. Dudziak is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law at Emory University. She is the author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, and Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    George Chauncey: The Long Road to Marriage Equality

    George Chauncey, a professor of history and American studies at Yale, was an expert witness in both same-sex marriage cases decided Wednesday.NEW HAVEN — THE Supreme Court’s soaring decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional is a civil rights landmark, but the history leading up to it is poorly understood. Marriage equality was neither inevitable nor, until recently, even conceivable. And the struggle to secure it was not, as is commonly believed, a natural consequence of the gay liberation movement that gained steam in the late 1960s.It was not until the 1980s that securing legal recognition for same-sex relationships became an urgent concern of lesbians and gay men. In the 1950s, such recognition was almost unimaginable. Then, most states criminalized gay people’s sexual intimacy. Newspaper headlines blared the State Department’s purge of homosexual employees during the McCarthy-era “lavender scare.” Police cracked down on lesbian and gay bars and other alleged “breeding grounds” of homosexuality.

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    Historians Played Important Role in DOMA Decision

    Image via Shutterstock.The Supreme Court's decision released Wednesday morning to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. United States upheld upon arguments made by historians in an amicus brief filed by the American Historical Association.The majority opinion acknowledges that “[b]y history and tradition, the definition and regulation of marriage has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States.”This mirrors language in the brief filed by twenty-three historians of marriage, sexuality, and constitutional law, which stated in its introduction that “[c]ontrol of marital status is reserved to the states in our federal system. Marriage has always been understood as a civil contract embodying a couple’s free consent to join in long-lasting intimate and economic union.”

  • Originally published 04/05/2013

    Peter Dreier: Is the Supreme Court Going to Settle for "States' Rights" on Same-Sex Marriage?

    Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His new book, "The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame," was just published by Nation Books.Should the states decide whether black Americans can marry white Americans?Today that idea seems absurd. Most Americans believe that states shouldn't be allowed to trample the basic right of interracial couples to marry - even if a majority of people in a state want to do so. It would be unfair - a clear violation of equal rights. That's one reason we have a federal government.In 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, the nation's highest court knocked down state anti-miscegenation laws.Now the nation - and the Supreme Court - confront a very similar situation, only this time the issue is same-sex marriage.

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    Andrew Meyer: Answering Scalia's Question

    Andrew Seth Meyer is associate professor of history at Brooklyn College.During oral arguments over the repeal of Proposition 8, Justice Antonin Scalia asked the following question of Ted Olson, one of the attorney's arguing for the repeal: "I’m curious, when—when did—when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted?" Mr. Olson's answer was rather labored and tentative. To paraphrase his reply, he asserted that this change had happened at some indeterminable point when society realized that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. Not being a lawyer, I am not aware of the possible legal reasons behind Mr. Olson's evasiveness. Still, I can not help expressing dissatisfaction with this answer.

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    David George Haskell: Nature’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage

    David George Haskell, a professor of biology at Sewanee: The University of the South, is the author of “The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.”BIOLOGY has returned to the nation’s highest court. It’s not Darwin’s theory of evolution on the docket this time, but the nature of sex. Defenders of Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, base their case on what they call the “objective biological fact” that procreation is an exclusively heterosexual process. Citing the 18th-century English jurist William Blackstone, they argue that marriage should be “founded in nature.”

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Melissa Harris-Perry: What Difference Will Same-Sex Marriage Make?

    Melissa Harris-Perry is professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. She is author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. She is also a contributor to MSNBC.In his essay “Message in the Stars,” the American Presbyterian writer and theologian Frederick Buechner conducts a thought experiment. What if God decided to prove—dramatically, irrefutably and publicly—that God does exist by writing across the night sky. Buechner imagines the heavenly author arranging the stars to read—GOD IS—and the subsequent hope, terror, regret, joy and utter astonishment that such a message would bring. He fantasizes that God would write the message in all the different languages of the world, so that on any given night one might go outside, look up and see, in French, Mandarin or Arabic: GOD IS.He invites us to envision the sense of relief that would come with the utter certainty that God exists. Then he imagines this:

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    David Cole: Deciding Not to Decide Gay Marriage

    David Cole is a professor of law at Georgetown University.THE Supreme Court will begin hearing two days of oral arguments today on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, and on the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage.DOMA poses easier legal issues. The statute, which President Obama believes is unconstitutional and which has been repudiated by Bill Clinton, who signed it, inserted the federal government into marriage law, historically the domain of the states. It was clearly driven by antigay animus, and as lower courts have ruled, there simply is no good reason for Congress to refuse to treat all state-recognized marriages equally.

  • Originally published 03/26/2013

    Sea change as gay rights gained momentum

    WASHINGTON — The struggle for African-Americans’ rights, symbolized by the bloody 1965 Selma march, is as old as the nation. The effort for American women’s rights began at Seneca Falls, N.Y., more than 150 years ago.The modern fight for gay rights is, by contrast, less than a half-century old, dating from the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York. But this week, as the Supreme Court hears two landmark cases on same-sex marriage, the speed and scope of the movement are astonishing supporters.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Shadow of Roe v. Wade looms over ruling on gay marriage

    WASHINGTON — When the Supreme Court hears a pair of cases on same-sex marriage on Tuesday and Wednesday, the justices will be working in the shadow of a 40-year-old decision on another subject entirely: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion.Judges, lawyers and scholars have drawn varying lessons from that decision, with some saying that it was needlessly rash and created a culture war.Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal and a champion of women’s rights, has long harbored doubts about the ruling.“It’s not that the judgment was wrong, but it moved too far, too fast,” she said last year at Columbia Law School....

  • Originally published 03/18/2013

    Gay Marriage, DOMA And The Dramatic Shift In Public Opinion In One Year

    It is remarkable how fast the issue of same-sex marriage has moved the American public. Of course, some long-time proponents will argue the opposite, that it has taken far too long for it to gain acceptance. And they say that there is no shortage of efforts around the country to block or overturn the practice.But there is no question that since Vice President Biden first announced his support for the issue last May — jumping the gun on President Obama, whose position on the issue was said to still be "evolving" — things have changed rapidly. Almost immediately, and far more significant, was Obama's declaration he felt the same. After that came dramatic shifting in public opinion, where for the first time ever, polls show that more people support gay marriage than oppose it. It became a cause to be celebrated at the Democratic National Convention last summer. Voters in three states, after an unbroken string of defeats, chose to legalize gay marriage in November. And it got considerable attention at Obama's inauguration in January, where he said, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."...

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    AHA addresses historical issues in Supreme Court DOMA case

    Kenneth Pomeranz and James Grossman are the president and executive director of the American Historical Association, respectively.The American Historical Association has joined a group of individual distinguished historians in signing an amicus brief in US v. Windsor, a case before the Supreme Court contesting the validity of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As is so often the case in legal contexts, the details can get lost in the swirl of broader issues and we want to clarify some important aspects of the AHA’s decision.The brief that the AHA has joined addresses strictly historical issues: in this case, how marriage has historically been regulated in the United States, and the purposes for which marriage has been thought to exist.  In both matters, it replies, in part, to a brief by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (“BLAG”).

  • Originally published 02/25/2010

    HNN Hot Topics: Same-Sex Marriage

    Image via Shutterstock.Related LinksHNN Hot Topics: Gay History HNN Hot Topics: Was Lincoln Gay?Latest News & Commentary