2 sides file pile of paperwork in Prop. 8 case
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Opposing sides in the legal battle over same-sex marriage in California have laid out their cases in writing to a federal judge, disputing the status of gays and lesbians in society, the nature of marriage, and the motives behind the ballot measure that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
"Californians voted for Proposition 8 because they thought it would strengthen the institution of marriage (and) ... because they thought it would benefit children," sponsors of Prop. 8 said Friday night in papers filed in federal court in San Francisco.
Their opponents, representing two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco, said those purported goals of Prop. 8 were contradicted by overwhelming evidence at a 12-day trial in January that allowing same-sex couples to wed would benefit their children and the institution of marriage. Regardless of the intentions of individual voters, they argued, the Prop. 8 campaign was designed to appeal to fear and deep-seated prejudice.
"The evidence demonstrates that Proposition 8's actual motivation was moral disapproval of gay and lesbian individuals," said the measure's opponents, plaintiffs in the federal court case. They said the ballot measure "sends a message to gay and lesbian individuals that they are not welcome in California."
The two sides filed hundreds of pages shortly before a midnight deadline, containing sharply contrasting summaries of the evidence presented at last month's trial, the first ever held in federal court on same-sex marriage.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, presiding over the nonjury trial, plans to review the material before hearing lawyers' final arguments, which have not yet been scheduled. Walker has indicated that his ruling will include detailed findings on the purposes and effects of Prop. 8, assessments that could hold the key to the measure's fate in appeals likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prop. 8, approved by 52 percent of the voters in November 2008, amended the California Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, overturning a May 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that extended marital rights to gays and lesbians. The state court upheld the initiative last May while also upholding 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in the state before Prop. 8 passed.
Because Prop. 8 eliminated rights that the California court had granted, plaintiffs in the federal suit want Walker to put it in the same category as a 1992 Colorado initiative that overturned local gay-rights laws and prohibited future anti-discrimination measures. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Colorado initiative in 1996 and said its sole purpose was to harm a disfavored minority.
Prop. 8's "express and stated purpose ... was to strip gay and lesbian individuals of constitutional rights" they had won in the state court, plaintiffs' lawyers said. They said Yes on 8 campaign messages "echoed fears that children must be 'protected' from gay and lesbian people."
Imbalance of evidence
The measure's sponsors, a conservative religious coalition called Protect Marriage, argued that subjective purposes were irrelevant and that Prop. 8 should be judged by its text: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." They also invoked President Obama - who said he opposes same-sex marriage for religious reasons, while also opposing Prop. 8 - as evidence that support for traditional marriage is not based in bigotry.
Friday's filings reflected, to some degree, the imbalance of evidence at the trial. Opponents of Prop. 8 presented 16 witnesses, including the individual plaintiffs - two gay men from Burbank and two lesbians from Berkeley - and a procession of university researchers to make the case that marriage is a historically evolving institution, that anti-gay discrimination is persistent and same-sex marriage would not affect heterosexuals.
Extending marital rights to gays and lesbians "strengthens the institution of marriage for both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples," plaintiffs' lawyers declared, citing their witnesses' testimony. Despite some recent progress, they said, gays and lesbians "lack political power to defend their basic rights," are not protected from discrimination by federal laws or the laws of most states, and are the disproportionate targets of hate crimes and of ballot initiatives like Prop. 8.
Protect Marriage withdrew four of its six scheduled witnesses at the start of the trial - saying they feared television coverage, which the Supreme Court had blocked - and presented two witnesses, political science Professor Kenneth Miller and the president of the Institute for American Values, David Blankenhorn.
The Prop. 8 sponsors cited research works, but no witness testimony, for one of their central assertions Friday: that "extending marriage to same-sex couples would result in a profound change to the definition, structure, and public meaning of marriage." Their opponents urged Walker to disregard such assertions, saying they contradict most academic studies and were never tested in court.
Citing Miller's testimony, Prop. 8's backers said gays and lesbians have strong political allies, particularly in California, and "have achieved the power they need to effectively pursue their goals through democratic institutions" without judicial intervention.
They cited Blankenhorn and the writings of conservative scholars for the conclusion that marriage is universally defined by "maleness and femaleness" and that one of its central purposes is "the encouragement of procreation under specific conditions" - a purpose best served, they argued, by limiting marriage to a man and a woman.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle