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Back to the Future: Uses of History in Newspapers and Judicial Records on Marriage Equality
Unformatted Document Text:  marriage, but also family, with procreation. 83 The Reporter quoted an attorney arguing for Proposition 8, who called marriage a “pro-child institution” 84 designed specifically to foster procreation. Cott’s testimony to the contrary was reported in the Reporter 85 and Los Angeles Times. 86 She challenged procreation as a definitive characteristic of marriage, and both newspapers quoted her testimony that, “There has never been a requirement that a couple produce children” to legitimate a marriage. 87 The discussion of marriage and family was not limited to the nuclear family unit, however. The New York Times summarized the personal history of Helen Zia, a lay witness in the Proposition 8 trial, and Lia Shigemura, who were domestic partners before marrying: “Marriage united the families of both women… . After marrying, [Zia] recalled, her teenage niece told Shigemura, ‘Auntie Lia, now you’re my real auntie.’” 88 Here, the significance of legal marriage is extended to affect not only the marital partners and their potential offspring, but the extended families of both partners as well. In Zia’s personal history, then, marriage is about the union of two families, not just two partners. The niece’s use of the descriptor “real” reaffirms the social symbolism of legal marriage and is consistent with Powell’s findings that Americans define family status, in part, by legal marital status. 89 A Civil Right and Mark of Citizenship. Marriage was also historically contextualized by newspapers during the trial as a civil right indicating equal citizenship. The New York Times quoted one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who explained that holding a trial in the Perry case was “precisely the process that has been used time and time again throughout American history to decide landmark civil rights cases.” 90 By placing Perry in the same category as civil rights cases on segregation and sex discrimination, the newspaper affirmed a narrative of progress in breaking through marriage restrictions, thus casting a positive light the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Indeed, a Los Angeles Times editorial drew on the positive rhetoric of rights and liberty, asserting, “The right to marriage has always been based on the constitutional liberty to select the partner of one’s choice—not on the partner chosen.” 91 Interestingly, however, few authors drew an explicit distinction between marriage as a civil right and marriage as a religious rite. In one of just two instances in which history was used to make this 14

Authors: Li, Anqi.
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marriage, but also family, with procreation.
  The Reporter quoted an attorney arguing for Proposition 8, 
who called marriage a “pro-child institution”
 designed specifically to foster procreation. Cott’s 
testimony to the contrary was reported in the Reporter
 and Los Angeles Times.
 She challenged 
procreation as a definitive characteristic of marriage, and both newspapers quoted her testimony that, 
“There has never been a requirement that a couple produce children” to legitimate a marriage.
The discussion of marriage and family was not limited to the nuclear family unit, however. The 
New York Times summarized the personal history of Helen Zia, a lay witness in the Proposition 8 trial, 
and Lia Shigemura, who were domestic partners before marrying: “Marriage united the families of both 
women… . After marrying, [Zia] recalled, her teenage niece told Shigemura, ‘Auntie Lia, now you’re my 
real auntie.’
 Here, the significance of legal marriage is extended to affect not only the marital partners 
and their potential offspring, but the extended families of both partners as well. In Zia’s personal history, 
then, marriage is about the union of two families, not just two partners. The niece’s use of the descriptor 
“real” reaffirms the social symbolism of legal marriage and is consistent with Powell’s findings that 
Americans define family status, in part, by legal marital status.
  A Civil Right and Mark of Citizenship.   Marriage was also historically contextualized by 
newspapers during the trial as a civil right indicating equal citizenship. The New York Times quoted one 
of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who explained that holding a trial in the Perry case was “precisely the process 
that has been used time and time again throughout American history to decide landmark civil rights 
cases.
 By placing Perry in the same category as civil rights cases on segregation and sex 
discrimination, the newspaper affirmed a narrative of progress in breaking through marriage restrictions, 
thus casting a positive light the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Indeed, a Los Angeles 
Times editorial drew on the positive rhetoric of rights and liberty, asserting, “The right to marriage has 
always been based on the constitutional liberty to select the partner of one’s choice—not on the partner 
chosen.
Interestingly, however, few authors drew an explicit distinction between marriage as a civil right 
and marriage as a religious rite. In one of just two instances in which history was used to make this 
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