American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Testimony: Marriage is a Basic Civil Right

The Perry case was the first  federal court trial about whether gay and lesbian Americans have the freedom to marry. AFER profiles the testimony that took place in the courtroom in 2010

We talk often about how marriage is a civil right, affirmed by 14 Supreme Court cases dating back to 1888. But what about the importance of marriage throughout history?

As Harvard University History Professor Nancy Cott testified during the Prop. 8 trial:

“Marriage—the ability to marry, to say ’I do’—is a basic civil right.”


“[T]he fact that the state is involved in granting these kinds of benefits and legitimacy to the marital family tends to lend a prestige, a status to that institution that no informal marriage has ever approximated.”

Dr. Cott, who has written four books and a slew of peer-reviewed articles, is an expert  on the history of family, marriage and citizenship, and one of the nine expert witnesses Ted Olson and David Boies called to testify about the cultural, historical, economic, psychological and sociological importance of marriage equality.

The words Prof. Cott said under oath were performed in the Broadway and Los Angeles premieres of “8” by Yeardley Smith, an actress known as the voice of Lisa Simpson,  a shoe designer, and AFER donor.