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Filed under: Press

Polygamy Obsession

By Julia Rosen

It’s always interesting to read a mainstream media report of an event you watched unfold, or in this case read. Invariably, the media chooses to focus on a sidelight or misses the most important moments. In this case it is the former. For some reason both the LA Times and SF Chronicle both spend an inordinate amount of time today talking about David Blankenhorn’s testimony about polygamy.

We all know the argument. If you let gay people marry, than what’s to stop polygamy, incest etc. etc.

In the LAT’s case they spent about a third of the article wrapping up this phase of the trial on polygamy. Here is a snippet.

Blankenhorn, however, insisted that polygamy satisfied the principles of marriage because it involves a man who marries one woman at a time.

Boies asked whether Blankenhorn was testifying that a man with five wives is consistent with his rule that marriage involves two people.

Blankenhorn said yes, adding that the marriages did not occur at the same time, and “each marriage is distinct.”

Ok, I get that this is loony toons and probably will sell newspapers, but what about Blankenhorn admitting that legalizing marriage equality “would be a victory for, and another key expansion of, the American idea”?

How about when Blankenhorn stated that same sex marriage “would probably increase wealth accumulation and lead to higher living standards for these couples as well as help reduce welfare costs (by promoting family economic self-sufficiency) and decrease economic inequality”?

Big Love is a great show and all, it’s on my DVR scheduler. But Blankenhorn talking about polygamy truly was a sidelight to the hours upon hours of David Boies dismantling him as any sort of an expert or scholar and Blankenhorn unwittingly making the plaintiffs’ case for them.

Media coverage of this trial has been extremely light. That is due in part to some enormous stories like Haiti and more recently the President’s State of the Union address and quite frankly the fact that there is no video of the proceedings. However, that increases the importance of the quality of the articles that are produced. The Trial Tracker has received a ton of traffic, but it pales in comparison to the mainstream media’s reach.

Any of the Trial Trackers seen articles lately that don’t match what really went on in the trial? Please throw the links in the comments.

83 Comments January 28, 2010

It’s About Rights and the Constitution

by Robert Cruickshank

In a column that should surprise precisely nobody, right-wing San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders tries to dismiss the Prop 8 trial as being about “feelings.” In doing so, she quite deliberately avoids the fact that the trial is about fundamental rights and the US Constitution, where the impact of discriminatory laws on the targeted class helps illustrate the unconstitutionality of the law.

Saunders is one of those conservatives who, rather than being motivated by a right-wing ideology, is primarily motivated by the desire to oppose anything progressives support. While conservatives like Ted Olson understand that same-sex marriage is something conservatives can and should support, Saunders prefers to use her column and the Prop 8 trial to try and deny the rights of same-sex couples by belittling the discrimination they have faced because of Prop 8’s passage.

She writes:

Feelings rule – and not just because the measure’s foes somehow believe that Californians haven’t been taught enough about gay people. Anti-8 attorneys have chosen to argue that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional in light of a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a Colorado ban on gay-rights measures because it was motivated by animus toward homosexuals. If they can convince Walker that the Prop. 8 people are haters, he may overturn the will of the majority of California voters.

But this isn’t exactly right. By citing Romer v. Evans, the 1996 decision that threw out Colorado’s Amendment 2, she makes it sounds like the notion that voters can’t enact discriminatory constitutional amendments is somehow new and novel. But the majority’s opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, makes it clear that the US Constitution played the key role in the decision:

It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance. “Equal protection of the laws is not achieved through indiscriminate imposition of inequalities.”

The key Constitutional provision is the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868. It was enacted in the aftermath of the Civil War, in order to ensure that Southern states could not reimpose the basic discriminatory legal architecture of slavey now that the slaves had been freed. Obviously, that wasn’t respected in practice, and for nearly a hundred years the Supreme Court refused to uphold the 14th Amendment. Only in the late 1940s did the courts “unbury” the 14th Amendment, which played a crucial role in the various cases that gave the Civil Rights Movement and the end of segregation the legal backing of the federal courts.

One of the most important parts of this amendment is what’s known as the Equal Protection Clause, which reads:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

What this means in practice is that a law must be applied equally, and legal privileges cannot be denied to people based on gender, race, or as Romer v. Evans made clear, sexual orientation. In 1967 the Supreme Court made absolutely clear that “marriage” was one of these laws that must be equally applied when it struck down state bans on interracial marriage in the Loving v. Virginia decision:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

Given this strong legal precedent, it seems obvious to most of us that Prop 8 is a straightforward violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and is therefore unconstitutional. Conservatives like Ted Olson agree, since they understand that the Constitution sets out limits that neither governments nor voters can transgress, without directly amending the Constitution itself.

Instead, Saunders believes that it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore the Constitution and enable discrimination against same-sex couples. But she realizes she can’t come right out and say that, not in the San Francisco Chronicle. So instead she decides to dismiss and belittle the anti-Prop 8 arguments and the very real discrimination and suffering being experienced as just mere “feelings”:

Plaintiff Kristin Perry of Berkeley testified in the first week of trial, “The state isn’t letting us be happy.” You know, that’s the way a teenager talks – yet it now rates as evidence in Walker’s court.

As we know, Perry’s testimony was about much more. But why would Saunders zero in on that statement? Because she believes she can use it to discredit the case against Prop 8 as being based on something that isn’t serious, isn’t legitimate. It’s a typical conservative attack on “bleeding heart” liberals who Saunders frames as somehow being weak, unserious, and therefore not worth listening to. Saunders ignores the constitutional issues because as the precedents show quite clearly, there is no constitutional case to be made in defense of Prop 8.

Saunders also tries to dismiss Ted Olson’s arguments:

But he did not make a strong “conservative” case, as he claimed. While many conservatives support same-sex marriage, a conservative should want to debate the possible consequences of upending family law. A good conservative doesn’t push a court to impose a ruling that shreds states’ rights, as well as the right of Californians to govern themselves.

This misses Olson’s point almost entirely, which was that same-sex marriage is an example of wider acceptance of marriage’s place in a stable and desirable society. But then Saunders’ conservatism is of the radical sort, where the Constitution and basic principles of equality are less important than keeping your ideological opponents down. While David Boies and Ted Olson are emphasizing the primacy of the US Constitution, Debra J. Saunders and right-wingers like her are instead emphasizing their ongoing battle with progressives. She believes politics trump rights and constitutional principles.

Needless to say, we don’t agree. But don’t just nod your head in agreement. Let her know what you think of her column by writing a letter to the editor to the Chronicle. Don’t let her claims go unanswered.

135 Comments January 24, 2010

Day 7 preview and more from Mayor Sanders

By Eden James

The American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization that has funded the legal challenge to Prop 8 in this court case, announced in a press release that the following gentlemen will be taking the stand on Wednesday — Day 7 of the Prop 8 trial:

  • Ryan Kendall, a gay man who will testify about the “conversation therapy” he underwent in his youth and how he has been affected by discrimination
  • Gary M. Segura, Ph.D,Professor of American Politics in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. He will testify about the relative political power of gays and lesbians as a class of citizens, and their level of political vulnerability.

The rest of AFER’s press release is below the fold, including comments by Mayor Jerry Sanders and his lesbian daughter Lisa at the daily post-trial press conference on Tuesday (as well as the YouTubed speech by Sanders shown at the trial on Tuesday). A staunch Republican and conservative, Sanders made this provocative point at the press event about the meaning of equality:

“I think denying marriage equality is just as wrong as telling blacks that they couldn’t use white-only drinking fountains. It’s government action that’s founded in prejudice,” Sanders said to reporters at the courthouse. “The first step towards equality in society is equality under the law.”

Longtime reporter Rex Wockner also attended the Sanders presser and has photos and quotes here.

It’s early morning on the west coast but no matter what time zone you’re in, feel free to use this as an Open Thread to discuss whatever is on your mind in relation to the trial. (more…)

117 Comments January 20, 2010

Our wonderful Trial Trackers and a few links

By Julia Rosen

It’s been four days and we have already had an amazing 430,000 views and 2,600 comments.

But the best part is that in such a short period of time, our commenters, (we’ve taken to calling you “Trial Trackers”), have already formed a community here. There have been tears, laughter, an argument or two, but really just an amazing amount of support for one another. It’s been wonderful to see. I’ve been reading each and every one of your comments, so I can catch the few trolls that we have had and it has been an incredible to watch evolve.

So, thank you for having such interesting, civil and emotional discussions. Keep telling your stories. We all know that is the best way to build more support for equality.

If the readers tonight have time for only one thing, I urge you to read the comments on Rick’s fifth liveblog post today. I dare you not to get verklempt.

On a completely different note…

Well, we promised you increased coverage and — with six liveblog posts from Rick and seven other posts from Eden, Robert, Brian, Paul and myself — you got it. If you appreciate what we are doing, please click the button on the right, or give here.

We are working on lining up a few guest bloggers for next week in addition to the regular crew above.

Here are a few quick hits for those who just can’t get enough of reading about this trial:

  • Over at the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot digs into one of “more tortured rationales ever advanced for banning same-sex marriage” that it seems the defendants are planning on using:

    In a 2005 case called Morrison v. Sadler, an appellate court in Indiana concluded that same-sex couples with children did not need marriage because they were already so stable—it was so expensive and complicated for them to adopt or conceive a child that they were bound to stay together. “By contrast,” the court observed, “procreation by ‘natural’ reproduction may occur without any thought for the future.” The stork could come calling on heterosexual couples without invitation, and when it did, marriage helped ensure that the surprised progenitors would stay around to raise the children.

  • Syd Peterson is covering the trial over at LGBT POV and has a good post on this morning’s testimony by Edwin Eagan.
  • The Merc has been doing some liveblogging of their own and has a central location for their blogs, articles and a #Prop8 twitter feed.
  • Teddy Partridge over at FDL has an powerful post called “The ‘Private Hell’ of an Inauthentic Life”, which uses Dr. Meyer’s testimony to talk about the negative impact of having to hide who you love in every day life.

37 Comments January 14, 2010

New York Times on SCOTUS ruling: “Sad example of the quashing of public discourse”

By Eden James

Hey everyone — Eden James here, Managing Director of the Courage Campaign Institute. I’ve been mostly in the background here, helping Rick, Julia, Robert and Paul feed the monster that has become the Prop 8 Trial Tracker. I won’t be posting often, but do know that I’m around reading your comments and thinking about how we can make this site even more of a public service for our exponentially growing community of, er, Trial Trackers (nearly 2,000 comments posted here in 3 days!).

Our first 72 hours on the P8TT have been a rollercoaster. None more so than today when the U.S. Supreme Court continued its stay on broadcasting the trial, indefinitely banning cameras from the court room. The reaction was swift, in this community and across the ideological spectrum.

And now, with the ink barely dry on the SCOTUS ruling, the New York Times just posted an editorial that will be no doubt be fodder for discussion as we enter Day 4 of Prop 8 federal trial in San Francisco. So what did they say? Well, like us, the NYT isn’t very happy with the Supreme Court and its backwards-looking decision:

“The trial that started on Monday in San Francisco over the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage could have been a moment for the entire nation to witness a calm, deliberative debate on a vitally important issue in the era of instant communications. Instead, the United States Supreme Court made it a sad example of the quashing of public discourse by blocking the televising of the nonjury trial.”

Sad, certainly. Perhaps tragic as well, given the hearts and minds that could have been challenged and changed by airing this trial for all Americans to watch. A teachable moment lost forever.

Well, I can’t say I’m surprised by the NYT’s editorial. I mean, who else besides the five justices holding on to their conservative majority for dear life would bar recordings of a trial that will shape this country for generations to come?

The NYT closes out its SCOTUS slam with the following:

“The courtroom battle now unfolding bears close watching, and the Supreme Court should not stand in the way of Americans viewing it and reaching educated judgments.”

What?!? Trust the American people to judge for themselves? NYT, you can’t be serious.

As other newspaper editorial boards chime in on this “sad example of the quashing of public discourse,” please let us know in the comments. If you see any editorials or op-eds, please post the links in this thread so that your fellow Trial Trackers can read ’em as well.

OK, I’m going to fade back into the background now…

42 Comments January 14, 2010

Quick Hits: Day 3

By Julia Rosen

There is a ton of excellent work being doing in covering this trial. Here are a couple of quick hits.

  • The LAist has the letter from Dr. William Tam, which was introduced today and whose incendiary deposition was aired in part during Dr. George Chauncey’s testimony. The pro-Prop 8 letter includes this lovely gem:

    This November, San Francisco voters will vote on a ballot to “legalize prostitution”. This is put forth by the SF city government, which is under the rule of homosexuals. They lose no time in pushing the gay agenda — after legalizing same-sex marriage, they want to legalize prostitution. What will be next? On their agenda list is: legalize having sex with children. I hope we all wake up now and really work to pass Prop 8.

    Tam was supposed to be an official Defendant-Intervenor in the case, but he withdrew right before it began.

  • Karen Ocamb over at LGBT POV has coverage of last night’s AFER press conference.
  • Adam B over at the big orange satan, eeer, I mean, Daily Kos has substantial quotes from both the majority opinion by SCOTUS and Breyer’s dissent.
  • The crew over at Fire Dog Lake continued their excellent live blogging and reporting. The wonderful Marcy Wheeler has joined Teddy in SF, aiding with the liveblogging. Hopefully, we will see some analysis from her too.

And just a quick thanks to a few of the folks sending traffic our way today, too many really to mention all of you, which is just amazing: Andrew Sullivan, Margaret Talbot at the New Yorker, HRC Back Story, Dante Atkins at Daily Kos and the NYTimes.

15 Comments January 13, 2010

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