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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)

Perhaps once upon a time homosexuals may have been discriminated against. Today in America and most of the western world, they are the preferred class. No other minority group holds so much political power and I dare anyone in America today to say anything against gays and not be hit with a major lawsuit, physical violence or worse.

The people of California should have never been allowed to vote on this. This is an issue that should be decided by the Supreme Court. Prop 8 is a clear violation of the Equal Protection clause in the 14th Amendment. What kind of a nation have we become where we allow the public to vote on people's civil rights? Every couple straight or gay should have the right to a civil marriage and the legal protections and responsibilities that go along with them as long as the couple is over the age of 18 and and of sound mind to enter into a contract. Gay people are taxpayers just like the rest of us and deserve equal rights. Gay marriage has been legal in Massachussetts for years and the world has not ended. So lets allow these people to get married and move on to more pressing issues like our broken state government.

@J.Ho....that is probably the dumbest thing i have ever read. "may have been discriminated against" matthew shepard, harvey milk, and the countless teachers, soldiers and other government workers who have been fired for their sexual preference and what about don't ask don't tell. No other minority group holds so much power. what power do they have?

Grady, grady grady grady... I like your argument, but it is flawed. Heterosexuals are allowed to marry the person of their chosen gender, where Gays are forced to marry only someone of the opposite gender... you sneaky person... you... It's like saying that back in the day, blacks were afforded the same right because they were allowed to marry only blacks and this was not discrimination because whites too were only allowed to marry whites... I'm against gay marriage but in favor of doing the right thing... right is right and we shouldn't discriminate just because we don't like or don't understand something...

When people grow up and stop whining and complaining like my two year old son after being told no, we might actually see a change in attitude with the majority of the country towards Gay and Lesbians. Although they are free to take Californias Prop 8 to court, it actually does fall under states rights, there fore the Federal Courts really should stay out of it.

To put it bluntly start actting like grown adults instead of the fore mentioned two year old. Do not threaten people just for look in your direction like a gay gentlemen did to me when I was 16 and figuring out my next ride at the amusement park. This goes farther to hurt your cause then just walking on and ignoring the 16 year old, not to mention getting the 16 year old ready for a fight.

I have known gay and lesbian through most of my life for the most part they were good people that made a differnt choice in their life style then others. Only once did the choice of sexual orientation anger me and that was only because he made this choice while dating a female friend. Another words a typical human reaction. The point is no one on this planet has a right to judge others that includes hetro-sexual towards gays and lesbians or vise versa.

To respond to one post on the founding of this country and the War for Indepence. Religion was only a small part of the reason for the original thirteen colonies breaking from the King of England. The major part of the reason was the taxation and exploitation of resources that the colonist work for and was taked without any representation in England, hence our form of Government and Country as we are a represenative Republic. For the most part the religous aspect had little to do with it there for really plays no role in the same sex marriage debate.

Finally there are churches that are excepting of the gay and lesbians in this country despite causing some division in the church. Episcopal and the Christian Church Discples of Christ to name a couple. Will same sex marriage become legal in this country? Yes just be cause those that are conservative fiscally tend to be more moderate socially. Like was stated in an earlier post "traditional marriage" has changed a few times over the past 4,000 + years. Personally the arguement is getting old and tiring both sides really do need to grow up.

What difference does Chauncey's background make? If he's homosexual himself, that doesn't change the fact that he's an expert on these things or make him less credible. Is a Christian person less credible giving his expert opinion on Christian matters? Of course not, and let's remember that question as this trial proceeds and the Pro-8ers start bringing their witnesses.

Chauncy does well to remind people that gays aren't just on TV and in parades. They were killed in Hilter's death camps and have long been executed for their victimless "crime," right up to the modern day in some places. Some "fad;" it dumbfounds me that people would say other people "choose" this, and horrifies me that some applaud this treatment of someone's son, daughter, mother, father, or grandchild.

This case should have never been accepted, The govt is broke and schools and important services are being cut and were screwing around with this case.Wasting money and time.

The 1972 Gay Rights Platform has specific items calling for the repeal of all laws setting a minimum age of consent to enter into a sexual relationship AND abolishing the limit on the number of people who can enter into a marriage relationship.

So you spin doctors in this forum who are claiming such extreme behavior is merely a "figment of our imaginations" are totally wrong on this issue!! It is reality and those at the forefront of the radical gay movement will not settle for something as tame as just one-on-one gay marriage, which is only a first step on their hedonistic agenda...

So what, Verballistic, those on the extremes of religion won't settle for anything less than a theocracy, doesn't mean it's anything but extremist nonsense or that their opinions are the the forefront. We don't deny equal rights to minorities just because some activists said something outlandish almost four decades ago. Should we reject immigration reform because some extremists want all foreigners shipped back to where they came from? I think not.

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