From Pam's House Blend:
Last up today was the plaintiffs' first expert witness, Professor Nancy Cott, who teaches American history at Harvard and previously taught at Yale for 26 years. She specializes in the history of women, gender, the family and marriage, and is the author of the book "Public Vows," a history of marriage in the United States.
Defense attorney Charles Cooper had claimed in his opening statement that marriage has been "universally" defined, across time and cultures, as the union of one man and one woman. Asked to comment about Cooper's statement, Professor Cott responded in no uncertain terms that it was historically inaccurate. She also noted that while religion has played a role in many Americans' ideas about marriage, our civil laws, not religion, have always defined marriage in the United States.
Discussing the social meaning of marriage in America, Professor Cott testified that although most people think of marriage as a private choice, it also has a public aspect. For example, slaves in America were unable to get married partly because they were not considered citizens, and therefore had no legal right to give their consent to enter into a marriage. After emancipation, former slaves flocked to get married, because they now enjoyed this basic civil right for the first time. As Professor Cott explained, the right to marry is an essential element of being treated as an equal citizen.