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Prop 8 trial offers lessons in history as Day 2 of testimony unfolds

Prop 8 trial offers lessons in history as Day 2 of testimony unfolds

The legal challenge over Proposition 8 entered its second day in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday, with a few lessons in history from Ivy League historians called by the plantiffs.

A Yale professor testifying in a case challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban said Tuesday that the 2008 campaign to pass Proposition 8 played on stereotypes historically used to portray “homosexuals as perverts who pray on young children, out to entice straight people into sick behavior.”

After viewing several television commercials produced by Proposition 8’s sponsors, George Chauncey, a historian who specializes in the subject of 20th century gay life, said images and language suggesting the ballot initiative was needed to “protect children” were reminiscent of earlier efforts to “demonize” gays, ranging from police raids on gay bars during the 1950s to campaigns to rid public schools of gay teachers in the 1970s.


Earlier in the day, Harvard professor Nancy Cott made a historian’s case for same-sex marriage in federal court today, saying defenders of California’s Proposition 8 are using the same rationale that was offered against interracial unions and equal rights for wives – that the survival of marriage itself was at stake.

Those who supported prohibitions on weddings across racial lines, bans dating from colonial days that the Supreme Court abolished only in 1967, often argued that “the institution would be degraded, their own marriages would be devalued” if such unions were allowed, Cott testified.

Similarly, she said, 19th century laws in most states that required women to surrender their property, earnings and legal status to their husbands were viewed by their supporters as “absolutely essential to what marriage was.”

It took a series of Supreme Court rulings in the 1970s, Cott said, to stamp out the last remnants of sex discrimination in marriage laws.

The expert testimony marked a change in tone from the trial’s first day, when the plaintiffs — same-sex couples Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Burbank — gave intimate accounts of how being unable to wed affected their lives.

Under the gentle questioning of David Boies, each described their willing-to-die-for love of their partner, the “harm” done to them individually and as a couple by the discrimination caused by their different married status, and how domestic partnerships was humiliating and just not good enough.

At times, they each choked up when talking about their love or talking about the difficulty of being in the closet and wanting to be liked. But perhaps the most moving was how the two teenage sons of Kris and Sandy cried openly as Kris testified about her love for Sandy and for them, reports Karen Ocamb of LGBT POV.

The landmark case in U.S. District Court, being presided over by Cheif Judge Vaughn R. Walker in a non-jury trial, is challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, the November 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

Analysts say the decision to fight the case in federal courts represents a high-stakes risk because it could result in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which would settle the issue and seal the fate of gay unions across the United States, without possibility for appeal by one side or the other.

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