Saturday, January 16, 2010

Things Getting Interesting in the Prop 8 Trial

The first week of testimony in the federal trial of California's Prop 8 came to a close Friday, and things have become quite interesting. Three items of note:
  1. Four of the six Prop 8 defense witnesses have dropped out.

    Prior to the first week of the trial, several of the witnesses for Prop 8's defense had indicated they would not testify if the federal court continued with its plan to release videos of the trial on YouTube. These concerns were laid to rest--at least temporarily--when SCOTUS put the kabosh on the YouTube idea early in the week (see item #3 below). But that hasn't stopped the defense witnesses from heading for the hills. By the end of this first week of the trial, four of the defense's six witnesses have decided not to testify. Timothy Kincaid speculates these decisions may have come after the potential witnesses observed how the plaintiff's witnessed were grilled on cross-examination.

  2. Lineup of plaintiff expert witnesses are systematically presenting and defending the research that has led the scholarly communities to conclude gay and hetero relationships are equal.

    The single most important factor in my own coming out process was information. From 2005-2006 I spent roughly 9 months in the stacks of university libraries poring over the scholarship of the last 100 years that has led the academic and medical communities to conclude that gay and hetero relationships are equal. Study after study overturned the myths and misinformation I had been told about gay people growing up in a religious community in rural Texas. At the time, I attempted to capture this information in a little volume I assembled called "If Only I Had Known" that I shared with my family.

    A far better presentation has played out in the Prop 8 courtroom this past week. The Plaintiffs have called to the stand experts in a variety of fields that have testified about the science of orientation, the history and rationale of marriage law, the quality of gay relationships, and the equal ability of gay people to rear children. Prop 8's defense lawyers haven't given them an easy time, attempting time and again to trip them up on cross-examination. But the scholars are presenting science, not opinion, and the scholarship has withstood the opposition. It's exciting for me to read the transcripts of the expert witness testimonies--particularly under cross-examination--as the conversation playing out in the courtroom is similar to what occurred in my own life 5 years ago: careful, systematic, scientific deconstruction of myth and misinformation. It's fantastic stuff. I strongly encourage you to check out the live blogs of the trial or read Timothy Kinkaid's daily summaries of the trial.

    Regardless of the immediate outcome of this trial, it seems clear to me that the testimony from this trial will be a reference point for many legal debates for years to come. I hope the full transcript of the trial becomes available, as I would love to share it with my family. I imagine the conversation/argument format will be much more accessible than the compilation of academic papers I sent them several years ago.

  3. The Supreme Court of the United States has issued a ruling related to the trial that may telegraph how the Court will lean if/when it hears the appeal of the case.

    If items #1 and #2 above seem to be favorable to the plaintiffs, this item favors the defense. As alluded to above, the federal court was initially planning to release videos of the trial on YouTube each evening. SCOTUS, however, nixed this plan in a 5-4 ruling they released on Wednesday. The Supreme Court's opinion on the video plan is being scrutinized carefully for any indication how SCOTUS may rule on the case if/when it is appealed to their level. The LA Times thinks this may not bode well for the good guys:
    Legal experts on the left and right gleaned three insights from the high court intervention: First, the justices are following this case closely. They typically rule on appeals after cases are decided. It is rare for them to intervene in a pending trial. Second, the court's conservatives do not trust Walker to set fair rules for proceedings. Their opinion described how he had given shifting explanations of his plans. This suggests Walker's ruling on Proposition 8 may be viewed with some skepticism. And third, the majority has a distinct sympathy for the foes of same-sex marriage. The justices cited a series of newspaper stories reporting on the threats and harassment faced by those who have publicly opposed gay unions...

    Last week's intervention in the San Francisco case "suggests the majority has a very strong sympathy for Prop. 8's supporters," USC law professor David Cruz added.
Things are indeed turning interesting in the courtroom in San Francisco.

Hat tips: Box Turtle Bulletin, Joe.My.God.

1 comment:

Jarred said...

The justices cited a series of newspaper stories reporting on the threats and harassment faced by those who have publicly opposed gay unions...

Okay, that just bothers me. The articles I've read that "report" on the threats and harassment faced by gay marriage foes are horribly inadequate and under-represented. They usually include nothing more than vague statements by gay marriage foes who say they've been "threatened" or "harassed" without giving any details. And those articles certainly don't do anything to confirm those claims independently.

I find the idea that justices are citing such poorly substantiated claims in their reasoning rather disturbing. I also wonder about said justices' thoroughness and competency in doing their job in regards to this matter.