Testimony: Nancy F. Cott Defends Equal Marriage Rights

Boston Review, January/February 2011

No Objections: What history tells us about remaking marriage

This article is adapted from Nancy F. Cott’s expert report submitted in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Professor Cott gives a sweeping analysis of the changing historical context of marriage, from the ending of coverture, the elimination of racial barriers to choice of partner, and the expansion of grounds for divorce. She contends that these changes—though fiercely challenged by many when first introduced—have strengthened marriage rather than undermining it. Cott concludes the adaptability of marriage has preserved it and allowing same-sex couples the freedom to marry would not only be consistent with the historical trend toward broadening access, but also make clearer that the right to marry represents a profound exercise of the individual liberty central to the American polity. [LINK]

Nancy F. Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University, is author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.