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Gays and lesbians have been a 'despised category,’ historian says at Prop. 8 trial

During the second day of a high-profile trial on same-sex marriage, a historian told a federal court that laws and police practices throughout U.S. history show gays and lesbians have been a "despised category," a minority that have been arrested, fired, harassed and censored because of sexual orientation.

"Gay life really was pushed underground," New York University history professor George Chauncey testified this afternoon.

Chauncey was the second expert witness to be called by lawyers for two same-sex couples who are challenging the federal constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that resurrected a California ban on same-sex marriage.

Because laws and police practices forced gays and lesbians to hide their sexuality and because the entertainment industry until recent years shied away from stories about homosexuality, "many young people growing up had no idea that there [were] other people like themselves," he said.

Similarly, many heterosexuals assumed they knew no gays or lesbians, which fostered dangerous and negative stereotypes, he said.

Chauncey cited early bans in the colonies against "nonprocreative" sex and later laws that banned sodomy. Police in large cities and small towns over the decades used vagrancy laws to arrest gays and lesbians and then informed their employers, landlords and families about the nature of the charges, Chauncey said.

"Gay life was enmeshed in a web of criminality," he said.

He cited a federal government report from the 1950s on homosexuals and "other perverts" and noted that federal law required intelligence agencies to fire suspected homosexuals. That requirement did not end until 1975, and it did not become illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in those agencies until 1990, he said.

Systematic discrimination against gays and lesbians "has lessened since the 1950s," Chauncey acknowledged, but he said 20 states still do not bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in government jobs; 28 states do not bar such discrimination by private employers.

"The fear of homosexuals as child molesters or recruiters continues to play a role in debates over gay rights," Chauncey said.

-- Maura Dolan in the San Francisco federal courthouse

Comments () | Archives (34)

Chauncey is a professor at YALE, not NYU.

Bigamists have also been despised and persecuted throughout American history. Does that mean we should allow bigamy as well?

Why can't we have access to these proceedings? All the haters want to do is hide, hide, hide.

Oh me, Oh me...This has nothing to do with the fact the the People Of the state of California were asked for their opinion and will on an issue, It was given, the party on the short end of the stick isn't happy, and here we are a year later still debating the subject as unemployment rises and the state falls further into debt. Ridiculous.

Well, oddly enough that whole argument is a plain and silly old red herring. Asians, Mexicans, Poles, Russians, Persians, Armenians etc have been (and in some cases still are) subject to the same sort of history/persecution as being portrayed as unique to gays. I guess that means they should be given special privileges and be made a protected legal class of people.

Kind of like Rich who have been a "despised category," a minority that have been harassed, assets stolen, villanized, scrutinized, and bad-mouthed by the majority. We demand equal rights!!!!!! EVERYONE should pay the same tax rate. Oh wait, discrimination and equal rights doesn't apply to us.

At last someone talks about what really happened ... and happening; and sadly it barely scratches the surface. Since 1989 Denmark was the first country to enact registered partnerships followed by Norway in 1993, but these partnerships where still limited. In 2001 The Netherlands was the first to legalize same-gender marriage, followed later by other countries who also recognized equal rights. Since the opponents suggests a wait and see position, just how may years do we need to wait to know that traditional marriage in The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway and so forth are still okay -- we know the answer. Again, it's pure discrimination.

I do believe in Live, and let live. Within the normal acceptance by society.

We did vote, and they were NOT accepted.

And there's NOT one single shred in the Constitution of same sex marriage.

All this is nothing more than an excuse using "Human-right etc.

We accept them for what they are, and we had been Very tolerant, as a Society.

So please don't push it on us. They don't produce to our society.

Do you think we could hear some arguments for BOTH sides or are you trying to be THAT obvious about your own agenda, LA Times?

I don't understand how we can put democracy on trial. Democracy is based upon the collective wisdom of the people. Despite what Mr Chauncey says, I believe the people have concerns, and the question at hand is not complex.

Would the journalism of Maura Dolan and her editors been improved by telling us a little more about Chauncey? To be described as an expert witness and a professor of history at a prestigious university -- as both Yale and NYU are -- is to lend an aura of "objectivity" to his testimony.

Chauncey is gay himself and his entire academic career has been built on special pleading for his identity group. He has "testified" many times as a paid expert witness in litigation raising gay issues, including the well known Lawrence case.

"Gay life was enmeshed in a web of criminality," he said. This kind of comment will only further foster the unfair stereotype of gay men as excessively given to "drama".

I wish Dr. Clauncey would have touched on how the role of some religious institutions have not only fueled this hatred towards LGBT people but how these same institutions throughout history have tortured and burned them at the stake.

Why shouldn't they be despised? It goes against the nature of any society unless other societies have gotten just as deranged as some of our's has. God condemns homosexuality in the Old and New Testaments and as I recall this country was created by religious people who wanted to worship God and not be forced to worship the man-made catholic rituals that were being forced on them. Why should unnatural laws be made for unnatuaral behavior/fads? Even during Biblical times people were punished severly for disobeying God. Nothing has changed. One day He will be back and all will kneel before him to give an account.

BOTTOM LINE: The gay rights movement wants the legitimacy that legalized marriage brings because homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce and gays desire easier accessibility to adopting children who can be initiated into the gay lifestyle.

@CarlosnLA...In answer to your thought, Dr. Chauncey is not an expert on religous institutions so he couldn't answer, and secondly the LGBT community didn't exist in history the way it does now...wait...sodom and gomorrah existed for a short while and it wasn't a religous institution that took care of them...and here and now the LGBT would have been better received had their actions not spoken louder than their words.

I wish people would quit shoving their idea of a "traditional marriage" down my throat and keep their historically misguided beliefs to themselves. Contrary to what many of the prop 8 proponents will say, there is no traditional marriage, as marriage changes constantly over time. In many early civilizations, and in a few societies today, marriage was/is defined as a man purchasing his wife from her father. Polygamy used to be the norm, even in the Bible. A few hundred years ago, only aristocratic marriages were recognized by the state. Just 50 years ago, many states had anti-miscegenation laws to limit marriage to members of the same race. The diverse, monogamous relationships of today are a historically new phenomenon. Going further, the fourteenth amendment states that it is not up to the state to limit a right like marriage to certain groups of people in a nation as diverse as our own, and this is further clarified in the Loving v. Virginia ruling on interracial marriage. Define marriage and apply it to your own life however you want, but don't think that I should follow it in dealing with my own life. Think of this not as a slippery slope but as a steep climb to new heights - it may be difficult and frightening to go on but it will be worth it in the end.

I really wish I could see the trial televised on YouTube like had been originally planned, hopefully the decision will come out on Wednesday in that favor. I was hoping to hear the opponents of same-sex marriage to see if they had any logical reasons against it. Reason being, I haven't heard anyone on forums give me one. I think sometime soon GLBTQ community will get the equality that they deserve, and we will see a lot more gay weddings.

There are a some comments here that are truly disturbing. And really the rationale for them are, sadly, dumb. This is a matter of civil rights. If gays can't marry they are being discriminated against. At one point discriminating against any one who was not white was acceptable and now is downright despicable so because it was at one point accepted we should revert back to that thought process? I thought this country was for equality for all not equality for some. They have inalienable rights to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. California is so backwards in so many ways it's amusing.

I agree with brad "you cant put democracy on trial" also Sam is right too "rich people are subject to harassment for being themselves"

My question is what is next: bestiality, child molestation, bigamy, or what? God has written in his word in many places disapproving these actions, and I try my hardest to follow Him with all my heart. Also This country was founded on God and democracy....both are trying to be infringed upon by this "trial"

It is never fair for the rights of a minority to be decided by a majority. If the civil rights act of 1964 was left to a vote by each individual state, would a majority of the people have voted for it? and i would also like to point out how ironic it is to see african americans and jews supporting prop 8 after centuries and in some cases millenas of racial and religious oppression.

Gay couples should be allowed to marry. Period. Those who attempt to justify the status quo reveal their personal insecurities and bigotry, but very little love, compassion, or intellect.


Actually, I think Bigamy and Polgamy have a STRONGER claim to legitmacy than gay marriage. Multipe spouses of the opposite sex has been a common pattern through history.

It's always funny to me how people think polgamy is WORSE than gay marriage.

Gays and Lesbians already have the right to marry. Any couple could find a religious group to "marry" them. What they don't have, in some cases, are the legal and $ benefits granted by the state. To say that Gays are oppressed because they don't get to file their taxes under the married filing jointly provision and qualify as a reduced rate is absurd.

I find it illuminating that these so called tolerant democrats have created a kangaroo court to put democracy on trial, and to force their minority beliefs on the majority. Note that these are likely the same people calling for the end to the filibuster. For them Majority rules, unless they are in the minority, then they take it to the courts. How Democratic.

I'm a little bit confused about the comments about "what's next?" Currently. 2 consenting adults of opposite gender are granted the right to marriage. We're now just trying to allow 2 consenting adults of the same gender those same rights.

Polygamy is a compltely different issue because currently, no one has that right in the US. An adult will not be able to marry his/her dog because currently, no one has that right in the US.

Stop trying to cloud the facts of this argument!

Gays and non-gays currently have the exact same rights when it comes to marriage. Both are allowed to marry the person of their choice as long as their intended is of the opposite gender. A straight/non-gay person has no right to marry someone of the same gender any more than a gay person does. Allowing such is creating a new right. Whether it is the right thing or the wrong thing to do is another matter to me. It is not equality. It is an ADDITIONAL right.

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