Steven Mintz: DOMA Ruling Proves History Still Matters

tags: historians, DOMA, same-sex marriage, Steven Mintz



Steven Mintz, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life and Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, signed the American Historical Association brief.

At a time when many question the relevance of history,  it is noteworthy that the U.S. Supreme Court case that prohibited  the federal government from undercutting a state’s decision to extend "the recognition, dignity and protection" of marriage to same-sex couples, hinged on arguments advanced by professional historians.

Rarely have historians played as important a role in shaping the outcome of a public controversy as in the same-sex marriage cases. Legal, family, women's, and lesbian and gay historians provided key evidence on which U.S. v. Windsor ultimately turned: that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) represented an unprecedented and improper federal intrusion into a domain historically belonging to the states. As Justice Kennedy affirmed, "the federal government, through our history, has deferred to state law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations."

But historical scholarship did more than substantiate a single pivotal argument.  It framed the majority’s broader understanding of marriage as an evolving institution and helped convince five justices that opposition to same-sex marriage is best understood as part of a long history of efforts to deprive disfavored groups of equal rights and benefits. In the end, the majority opinion hinged on "the community’s ... evolving understanding" of marriage and of equality and the majority’s recognition that DOMA imposed "a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states."...




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