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Nature on trial in California's legal battle for same-sex marriage

Jonathan Drury


Popular and political discussions of sex differences often appeal to biology in misleading ways. The briefs filed in the trials leading up to and including the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Hollingsworth v. Perry (the case dealing with an anti-same-sex marriage law in California, known widely as Proposition 8) perseverate on biological bases of sex differences to argue that the state should restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.  The arguments in these briefs depict sex-linked traits as static, opposing entities, ignoring the contexts in which such traits develop, committing what I refer to as contextual whitewashing.  In doing so, the proponents of Proposition 8 reveal their logic to be not only out of touch with the biology that they misappropriate, but also inconsistent, as their depictions of the relationships between culture and biology as well as environments and trait development are contradictory. As such, the briefs filed on behalf of the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 provide a clear case study in science being misused to ideological ends.  This essay highlights new modes of critiquing deterministic narratives of sex differences by emphasizing the importance of understanding the relationships between social environments and the development of sex-linked traits.


California Proposition 8; U.S. Supreme Court; same-sex marriage; sex differences; developmental plasticity

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