Prop. 8 Trial Roundup.

This week, plaintiffs in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial began presenting their case before Northern California District Judge Vaughn Walker. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has barred cameras from the courtroom, so most of the information available is coming from reporters or those liveblogging the proceedings. While the trial is not being broadcast, it is still being taped; the defense has sought to have these tapes destroyed, but the judge has refused to.

After opening statements (Ted Olson's is available here), the plaintiffs proceeded to presenting their testimony. Some highlights:

  • The first day of the trial included emotional testimony from the plaintiffs – a same-sex female couple and a same-sex male couple -- about their relationships and how being barred from marrying has affected them. Strangely, the defense chose to cross-examine the men but not the women.
  • The deposition of Prop. 8 sponsor Bill Tam set off a flurry of commentary on the blogosphere. Under questioning, Tam claimed legalizing sex with minors is part of the gay agenda. Also entered into evidence was a letter Tam wrote warning that if Prop. 8 did not pass, the states would fall "one-by-one" into the hands of the devil. It also contained a line that's already become infamous:

    Every child, when growing up, would fantasize marrying someone of the same sex. More children would become homosexuals. Even if our children is [sic] safe, our grandchildren may not. What about our children's grandchildren?

  • Nancy Cott, a Harvard professor, testified about the history of marriage in the United States, pointing out that marriage law has often been used to make value distinctions between members of different races. She also testified that the right to marry is a fundamental right; those who cannot marry are essentially not free. On cross examination, David Thompson tried to paint Cott as a radical academic, citing academic work she had completed decades ago and questioning her extensively on polygamy.
  • Yale professor George Chauncey testified about the history of discrimination against gay people and portrayed the tactics of the "Yes on 8" campaign, which used the slogan "Protect Our Children," as a continuation of Anita Bryant's campaign to quash anti-discrimination ordinances in the '70s.
  • Ilan Meyer, associate professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia University, testified about the psychological stress caused by discrimination on gay and lesbian individuals.
  • Therese Stewart, counsel for San Francisco, and Edmund Egan, the chief Economist for the City and County of San Francisco testified about the economic impact of Proposition 8 on the city. They said it costs the city money by conferring the perception of second-class citizenship on gay couples, leading to hate crimes and making it absorb health-care costs not covered by employers. Egan also noted that married couples have more disposable income that could benefit the economy.

So far there haven't been many surprises in the case, but the plaintiffs expect to wrap up by next Wednesday, after which we should hear from witnesses for the defense. Given the defense's previous trouble in coming up with ways allowing gay marriage would harm the institution, it should be interesting to hear what, given the time, they've come up with.

--Gabriel Arana

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