An Analysis of the Results of the Federal Prop 8 Same-Sex Marriage Trial
This article also appears here.
This is an analysis of the courtroom proceedings in Perry v. Schwarzenegger and the August 4, 2010 decision by Judge Vaughn Walker upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry and not an analysis of the moral reasoning behind either position.
In short, Judge Walker ruled based on the evidence presented, as any trial judge should, and regardless of his own personal sexual orientation or biases, Prop 8 supporters simply did not make a viable case for themselves. Sloganeering may have won the election but did not win a trial where real evidence was required. Prop 8 supporters may later look at the ruling and claim it was wrongly decided but as this essay points out, the reality is that they did a poor job presenting their evidence and only put two witnesses on the stand, both of whom had previously written statements that contradicted their testimony in favor of Prop 8. When both of these witnesses were neutralized, Prop 8 advocates had nothing left with which to prove their case and any effort by any judge to add in facts to uphold Prop 8 would have been the very definition of judicial activism.
How Prop 8 Became Law
In May 2008, the California Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage was permissible under the state constitution and thousands of same-sex couples were married. In November 2008, by a vote of 52% to 48% California voters passed Proposition 8 ( “Prop 8″ ) a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
This constitutional amendment was argued before the California Supreme Court. At oral argument in March 2009, the court asked Ken Starr, lead counsel in favor of Prop 8, whether there was any limitation to what the people could do.
The Question Before the Court
During the run-up to the November 2008, Prop 8 supporters were free to say anything to get votes. They took full advantage of this by portraying a parade of horrors that same-sex marriage would bring and played to gut-level anti-homosexual feelings. They argued that churches would be forced to perform gay marriages. They argued that it would lead to increases in child molestation. They argued that the Bible said homosexuality was wrong and that the state law should mirror the Bible.
But in Federal court, Prop 8 supporters needed to present legal, secular empirical evidence to support the idea that same-sex marriage was such a threat that the government was compelled to put a stop to it. This argument was made more difficult by the fact that a handful of states already approved same-sex marriage.
In this context, personal or religious convictions and moral arguments needed to be backed up with objective facts. Unlike the California Supreme Court, Judge Walker was not beholden to the simple fact that the California constitution had been amended. He was charged with examining the evidence for and against Prop 8 in light of the U.S. Constitution.
The Evidence Presented
To challenge Prop 8, same-sex marriage advocates brought forward eight lay-witnesses, including two same-sex couples, and nine expert witnesses. The lay-witnesses described their feelings of being discriminated against and the idea that the law was not fair. Expert witnesses testified to various facts and statistics that they said demonstrated that same-sex marriage was not socially harmful. These were the standard arguments that same-sex marriage proponents have been making for years and there really was nothing new or novel.
Tam also admitted he had stated that incest and polygamy had been legalized in the Netherlands soon after the country legalized same-sex marriage in 2001. This was factually untrue. The questioning went like this:
Prop 8 Advocates Presented Only Two Witnesses And Neither Was Consistent Or Credible
Prop 8 supporters cross-examined these pro-same-sex marriage witnesses extensively but despite the large number of people who had promoted Prop 8, Prop supporters only put up two witnesses to defend the Proposition. With so few, Prop 8 defenders should have realized that they needed to put their best foot forward and present overwhelming evidence. Instead, Prop 8 supporters presented weak witnesses who had previously contradicted the pro-Prop 8 position.
Although same-sex marriage advocates objected to his lack of qualifications in the area of same-sex marriage, the court allowed him to testify.
The Decision And Its Aftermath
Given the fact that Judge Walker was dealt this hand, focused same-sex marriage advocates and two scattered Prop 8 witnesses this outcome was inevitable. Had they presented a solid case, some element of bias might be taken into account, but they presented such a sad defense of Prop 8 that a ruling in their favor would have required the judge to admit objective facts that they did not bring forward.
The Prop 8 defense was fundamentally ineffective and was unable to explain why in any way it was necessary to take away same-sex marriage rights in order to protect a compelling state interest. They even failed to demonstrate that there was a rational basis for Prop 8.
Despite the deficit in Prop 8 advocacy, Judge Walker clearly spent a great deal of time considering the matter and writing an airtight decision that will be incredibly difficult to refute on appeal.
The question remains as to whether Prop 8 supporters will cut their losses now and allow California to join a handful of states where gay marriage is legal or whether they will appeal to the Ninth Circuit and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court which could nationalize same-sex marriage.
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