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Back to the Future: Uses of History in Newspapers and Judicial Records on Marriage Equality
Unformatted Document Text:  memories, whether consistent with an authentic past or not, can trap people in the past. Acknowledging and forgetting a past in which same-sex couple’s participation in marriage was nonexistent, sporadic, or difficult may free society to begin actualizing the choice model of marriage in which couples are not valued by race, sex, or sexual orientation, but by the substance of their relationships. Such an approach may rely on the judicial mechanism for social reform through constitutional law, as illustrated by Perry. And it may ultimately preserve the traditional value of marriage as the romantic ideal. Implications. Based on this study’s findings, it is important to consider the relationship between newspaper coverage and the courts. Existing research suggests that newspapers are both predisposed to support marriage equality and capable of influencing public opinion. Other research suggests that courts might also educate the public by legitimizing change. Uses of history in coverage during the trial closely tracked uses of history in judicial records, as reporters wrote about the Perry trial. But if the testimony against marriage equality for same-sex couples had been stronger in Perry, and if Walker had decided to uphold the marriage ban, would the newspapers’ uses of history have departed more radically from the uses of history in judicial documents? Thus, the “objectivity” of history is foregrounded. Reporters must exercise responsibility in using history and in covering uses of history, regardless of whether the history supports their personal or organizational interests. Reporters must be cognizant of the power they wield when they select fragments of the past and stitch them together as historical narratives to shape cultural memories. Their judgment in this area is particularly important when covering marriage equality, which necessarily draws on history both as a social and legal issue. As demonstrated by the parties in Perry, history can be wielded as a weapon by advocates defending conflicting interests. As a social institution that directly shapes public policy, the courts must balance receptivity to new narratives and social change with respect for public opinion and agreed-upon pasts. In the judicial context, the possibility of becoming trapped in the past might be particularly problematic—though that was not the case in Perry. Critics of Walker’s decision might argue for greater respect for legitimized precedents in a fundamental social institution like marriage. 23

Authors: Li, Anqi.
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memories, whether consistent with an authentic past or not, can trap people in the past. Acknowledging 
and forgetting a past in which same-sex couple’s participation in marriage was nonexistent, sporadic, or 
difficult may free society to begin actualizing the choice model of marriage in which couples are not 
valued by race, sex, or sexual orientation, but by the substance of their relationships. Such an approach 
may rely on the judicial mechanism for social reform through constitutional law, as illustrated by Perry
And it may ultimately preserve the traditional value of marriage as the romantic ideal.
Implications.   Based on this study’s findings, it is important to consider the relationship between 
newspaper coverage and the courts. Existing research suggests that newspapers are both predisposed to 
support marriage equality and capable of influencing public opinion. Other research suggests that courts 
might also educate the public by legitimizing change. Uses of history in coverage during the trial closely 
tracked uses of history in judicial records, as reporters wrote about the Perry trial. But if the testimony 
against marriage equality for same-sex couples had been stronger in Perry, and if Walker had decided to 
uphold the marriage ban, would the newspapers’ uses of history have departed more radically from the 
uses of history in judicial documents? 
Thus, the “objectivity” of history is foregrounded. Reporters must exercise responsibility in using 
history and in covering uses of history, regardless of whether the history supports their personal or 
organizational interests. Reporters must be cognizant of the power they wield when they select fragments 
of the past and stitch them together as historical narratives to shape cultural memories. Their judgment in 
this area is particularly important when covering marriage equality, which necessarily draws on history 
both as a social and legal issue. 
As demonstrated by the parties in Perry, history can be wielded as a weapon by advocates 
defending conflicting interests. As a social institution that directly shapes public policy, the courts must 
balance receptivity to new narratives and social change with respect for public opinion and agreed-upon 
pasts. In the judicial context, the possibility of becoming trapped in the past might be particularly 
problematic—though that was not the case in Perry. Critics of Walker’s decision might argue for greater 
respect for legitimized precedents in a fundamental social institution like marriage.

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