Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prop 8 Trial Day 2: Historian describes gays as "despised catergory"

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 5: A sign in oppositi...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
In the second day of testimony in the federal challenge to California's Proposition 8, George Chauncey, a professor of history at New York University related the history of discrimination and persecution of gays and lesbians in American society, religion and government, saying, "Gay life really was pushed underground".

The L.A. Times reports:
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.

Firedog Lake's Teddy Partridge continues live blogging from the courtroom and has provided some of the most detailed accounts of testimony, with occasional commentary from about what else is happening in the courtroom as counsel from both sides go over details of evidence, testimony and disclosure.

In other testimony, Professor Nancy Cott, author of "Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation", talked about how the definition of marriage and how government's role in recognizing and bestowing marriage rights has changed throughout history. Professor Cott talks about the rights of women in marriage, the difference civil and religious marriage and marital infidelity in the Clintons' marriage. There is so much testimony that it's hard to pick and choose the best parts. Go here for the Firedog Lake's transcript.

The tone of the lawsuit so far is that homosexuality itself is on trial. It's become a fascinating look at LGBT history, a history that has largely been denied us. The expert testimony has outlined a pattern of discrimination beginning in the churches of pre-columbian Europe, following the earliest American colonists and permeating our society to this day.  I strongly recommend that you read through the transcripts.

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