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Back to the Future: Uses of History in Newspapers and Judicial Records on Marriage Equality
Unformatted Document Text:  After the decision, the history and nature of state involvement emerged as another prominent theme. Some authors probed the causal relationships among state regulation through judicial action, public opinion, and social reform. One editorial author suggested that public opinion drives the judicial mechanism for social change because courts historically “have required sweeping cultural shifts such as school desegregation only when it was clear that a substantial percentage of Americans supported them.” 135 Another challenged that relationship, positing that the judicial mechanism can influence public opinion. 136 There was no consensus on which dynamic was historically most common or effective. Newspapers also teased out varying layers in levels of state regulation. The Los Angeles Times highlighted tensions between federal legislative and judicial regulation, pointing to the Iowa court’s 2009 extension of marriage rights in Varnum v. Brien and to Walker’s decision in Perry. 137 Newspaper coverage also identified the conflict between the executive and the legislative branch over the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of marriage between same-sex couples and allows states to withhold recognition. The newspaper reported, “The Obama administration supported the statute, saying it was obligated to defend federal laws, even though President Obama has called it ‘abhorrent.’” 138 Indeed, newspapers seemed particularly interested in Obama’s personal stance on the issue. During the trial, the Reporter noted that Obama’s “non-support of gays and lesbians marrying” 139 surfaced in trial. Months after the Perry decision, the Los Angeles Times published “Obama’s ‘evolving’ views stir gay marriage debate,” 140 labeling Obama a potential “game changer” in marriage discourse. Comparing Public Opinion on Marriage Equality. Newspapers’ interest in Obama’s stance was fueled by an assumption that his opinion might sway public opinion. Indeed, public opinion has been a significant factor in marriage discourse. After Massachusetts extended marriage rights through judicial action in 2003, voters in 23 states passed referenda barring marriage equality by 2006. 141 Comparisons of public opinion, then, were unsurprising in the coverage of marriage discourse and were more common after the Perry trial and decision. 142 Comparisons of public opinion for the most part reflected a consensus that supported extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. 143 The New York Times printed a general comparison made by 20

Authors: Li, Anqi.
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After the decision, the history and nature of state involvement emerged as another prominent theme.
Some authors probed the causal relationships among state regulation through judicial action, 
public opinion, and social reform. One editorial author suggested that public opinion drives the judicial 
mechanism for social change because courts historically “have required sweeping cultural shifts such as 
school desegregation only when it was clear that a substantial percentage of Americans supported 
them.
 Another challenged that relationship, positing that the judicial mechanism can influence public 
opinion.
 There was no consensus on which dynamic was historically most common or effective. 
Newspapers also teased out varying layers in levels of state regulation. The Los Angeles Times 
highlighted tensions between federal legislative and judicial regulation, pointing to the Iowa court’s 2009 
extension of marriage rights in Varnum v. Brien and to Walker’s decision in Perry.
 Newspaper 
coverage also identified the conflict between the executive and the legislative branch over the 1996 
Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of marriage between same-sex couples and 
allows states to withhold recognition. The newspaper reported, “The Obama administration supported the 
statute, saying it was obligated to defend federal laws, even though President Obama has called it 
‘abhorrent.’
 Indeed, newspapers seemed particularly interested in Obama’s personal stance on the 
issue. During the trial, the Reporter noted that Obama’s “non-support of gays and lesbians marrying”
surfaced in trial. Months after the Perry decision, the Los Angeles Times published “Obama’s ‘evolving’ 
views stir gay marriage debate,
 labeling Obama a potential “game changer” in marriage discourse. 
Comparing Public Opinion on Marriage Equality.   Newspapers’ interest in Obama’s stance 
was fueled by an assumption that his opinion might sway public opinion. Indeed, public opinion has been 
a significant factor in marriage discourse. After Massachusetts extended marriage rights through judicial 
action in 2003, voters in 23 states passed referenda barring marriage equality by 2006.
 Comparisons of 
public opinion, then, were unsurprising in the coverage of marriage discourse and were more common 
after the Perry trial and decision.
Comparisons of public opinion for the most part reflected a consensus that supported extending 
marriage rights to same-sex couples.
 The New York Times printed a general comparison made by 
20


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