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How He Helped Marriage Equality

In response to:

I Do, I Do from the August 14, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

In his review of recent books on the campaign for marriage equality [“I Do, I Do,” NYR, August 14], Edmund Wilson makes misleading statements about my testimony in California’s Prop 8 case. First, he writes that my testimony “lost steam when he had to admit that his degree from Warwick University was granted not for his study of marriage or families, but of nineteenth-century cabinetmakers.” That’s an odd way to put it! I never stated or tried to pretend otherwise, and my academic career (such as it was) was part of the court and public record from the beginning.

More importantly, to justify his assertion that on the witness stand I “ended up expressing ideas that helped the pro-marriage equality side,” Wilson offers a long quotation from me, without attribution. What he omits to say is that the quotation comes from a book I’d written three years earlier that, again, was part of the court and public record from the beginning.

Probably the single most often-repeated and well-known “fact” about my testimony at the trial was that I “ended up” confessing the equal dignity of homosexual love as a result of the cross-examination of David Boies. But it’s not a fact at all. I’d written these sentences already, and when Boies said them back to me (without attribution) and asked me if I agreed with them, I answered that I agreed with them when I’d written them and that I agree with them currently.

These may seem like small details of interest mainly to me, but they do illustrate a larger trend. So often today, what someone in the public eye actually says doesn’t matter nearly as much as who’s able to control the after-the-fact spinning and legend-creating. What Wilson says here perpetuates this phenomenon. Relatedly, in today’s culture-war climate, many people, apparently including Wilson, simply aren’t prepared to believe that someone testifying as an expert witness would say, on purpose and not as a result of duress, that both sides have good points to make.

David Blankenhorn
President, Institute for American Values
New York City

Edmund White replies:

David Blankenhorn seems to have confused me with the late, great Edmund Wilson (so much for scholarly attention to detail). Nor does he seem to grasp that though he was presented as a witness for the anti-gay team, his remarks and writings actually strengthened the case for marriage equality.