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Back to the Future: Uses of History in Newspapers and Judicial Records on Marriage Equality
Unformatted Document Text:  “authentic history” may actually help people in the present preserve a valued idea or ideal. 23 He pointed to the example of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, which did not actually happen but which is necessary to preserve the ideal Truth represents as a historical figure. The idea that marriage, for example, has been a love-based, heterosexual relationship naturally, trans-historically, and inevitably, is a memory that helps to preserve the contemporary ideal of “traditional” marriage. 24 Newspapers have the potential to be particularly influential actors in marriage discourse because they can choose what voices and histories to amplify or mute, thus affecting the nature of the discourse that shapes governance and policy. 25 Newspapers “frame, transform, and invent what they purport to convey,” 26 and by “seeking to disseminate information that people want, need, and should know … both circulate and shape knowledge.” 27 Newspapers, then, are potentially influential actors in the public discourse on marriage. 28 History in the Courts. Like newspapers, courts are also social resources and actors in shaping reality. Courts have the authority to select what historical narratives to interpret, and thus what historical narratives to imbue with meaning. 29 The overturning of Bowers v. Hardwick 30 by Lawrence v. Texas 31 illustrated the power of judicial decisions to model principles for the public and to educate the public on how to think about charged issues, such as sexuality. 32 After the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowers upheld a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy, sexuality historians made a concerted effort to build a new volume of scholarship on sodomy laws. 33 The Supreme Court in Lawrence accepted the new historical narrative of how sexual identity and acts have been legally regulated and socially conceptualized, thus imbuing it with authority. The court reasoned that the legal issue of sodomy should not be weighed as a matter of sexual acts, but as a matter of protected privacy within an intimate relationship. 34 The lesson from Lawrence, as legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky identified it, was that sodomy could no more be boiled down to just a sexual act than marriage can be boiled down to just a sexual relationship; both are essential aspects of personhood. 35 Using and Abusing History. Including history, or references to “a relevant past,” has had many uses in newspapers. 36 Two of the ways in which the past has been used are assessed in this paper on 4

Authors: Li, Anqi.
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“authentic history” may actually help people in the present preserve a valued idea or ideal.
 He pointed to 
the example of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, which did not actually happen but which is 
necessary to preserve the ideal Truth represents as a historical figure. The idea that marriage, for example, 
has been a love-based, heterosexual relationship naturally, trans-historically, and inevitably, is a memory 
that helps to preserve the contemporary ideal of “traditional” marriage.
Newspapers have the potential to be particularly influential actors in marriage discourse because 
they can choose what voices and histories to amplify or mute, thus affecting the nature of the discourse 
that shapes governance and policy.
 Newspapers “frame, transform, and invent what they purport to 
 and by “seeking to disseminate information that people want, need, and should know … both 
circulate and shape knowledge.
 Newspapers, then, are potentially influential actors in the public 
discourse on marriage.
History in the Courts.   Like newspapers, courts are also social resources and actors in shaping 
reality. Courts have the authority to select what historical narratives to interpret, and thus what historical 
narratives to imbue with meaning.
 The overturning of Bowers v. Hardwick
 by Lawrence v. Texas
illustrated the power of judicial decisions to model principles for the public and to educate the public on 
how to think about charged issues, such as sexuality.
 After the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowers upheld a 
Georgia law criminalizing sodomy, sexuality historians made a concerted effort to build a new volume of 
scholarship on sodomy laws.
The Supreme Court in Lawrence accepted the new historical narrative of how sexual identity and 
acts have been legally regulated and socially conceptualized, thus imbuing it with authority. The court 
reasoned that the legal issue of sodomy should not be weighed as a matter of sexual acts, but as a matter 
of protected privacy within an intimate relationship.
 The lesson from Lawrence, as legal scholar Erwin 
Chemerinsky identified it, was that sodomy could no more be boiled down to just a sexual act than 
marriage can be boiled down to just a sexual relationship; both are essential aspects of personhood.
Using and Abusing History.   Including history, or references to “a relevant past,” has had many 
uses in newspapers.
 Two of the ways in which the past has been used are assessed in this paper on 

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