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Professor in Prop. 8 trial testifies that marriage has been historically restricted in U.S. [updated]

January 12, 2010 | 10:02 am

In her ongoing testimony in a San Francisco federal courtroom, a Harvard history professor said that throughout American history, government has restricted marriage on racial grounds and limited the rights of women within marriage.

Efforts to remove those restrictions and limitations were met with huge controversy, said professor Nancy Cott, who has written a book about the history of marriage in the United States. The removal of those restrictions did not weaken marriage and may even have strengthened it, she said.

Cott was called to the stand by lawyers for two same-sex couples who want to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that reinstated a marriage ban for gay and lesbian couples.

During the second day of the high-stakes trial, lawyers elicited testimony from Cott to contradict claims by proponents of Proposition 8. The lawsuit by the same-sex couples contends that Proposition 8, passed by 52.3% of California voters, violated federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.

Cott also testified today that gender roles traditionally assigned to marriage no longer make sense and are no longer supported by laws. Cott said divorce has not increased in Massachusetts during the five years same-sex couples could marry, "and if anything the divorce rate has been down."

She testified that a ban on same-sex marriage deprives society a significant source of stability.

[Updated at 10:23 a.m.: Attorneys for Proposition 8's proponents pored over past statements Cott has made in interviews and tried to portray her as an activist during cross-examination. David H.Thompson, one of the campaign's lawyers, said that racial restrictions on marriage in the U.S. were never as "uniform" or widespread as the ban on same-sex marriage.]

[Updated at 10:49 a.m.: "The consequences of same sex marriage is an impossible quesrion to answer, yes or no?" Thompson asked Cott. "No one predicts the future," the Harvard professor admitted.
Thompson also got Cott to admit that same-sex marriage would be "arguably a highly distinctive turning point" in the history of marriage laws.]

[Updated at 10:57 a.m.: Thompson, reading from an article Cott wrote, asked whether Jesus Christ and his apostles taught monogamy. "I know very little about Jesus Christ," Cott replied.]

-- Maura Dolan at the federal courthouse in San Francisco

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