NCLR Applauds Court Decision Striking Down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

September 9, 2010

Today, a federal district court judge in the Central District of California held that the federal government’s policy of barring lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military violates the United States Constitution. In a sweeping decision, Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the government’s policy—popularly known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell—is unconstitutional on its face, and must be struck down. The decision details the voluminous evidence presented by the plaintiffs about the harm caused by the government’s policy. The court held that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell violates the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members without advancing any important government interest. The court held that the law also violates lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members’ First Amendment rights because it forces them to be silent about the most basic information about their identities, family relationships, and daily activities, and prevents them from seeking protection from harassment and discrimination. The case was brought by the Log Cabin Republicans on behalf of its members and included testimony from a number of service members affected by the policy.

The decision will not take effect immediately. Judge Phillips asked the plaintiffs to submit a proposed judgment, including a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law, by September 16, 2010. If upheld on appeal, the decision would prevent the federal government from enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell against any service member.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“Today’s decision by Judge Phillips—following other recent decisions striking down California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act–is another landmark victory for LGBT Americans. Once again, those who seek to defend discriminatory government policies failed to present a shred of evidence to justify laws that are based entirely on prejudice and fear. After considering the overwhelming evidence presented by the plaintiffs, Judge Phillips held that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell inflicts severe harm on lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members who put their lives on the line to protect and serve our country, while undermining our national security by requiring the discharge of loyal, qualified, and highly trained personnel. This decision puts another nail in the coffin of official government discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is past time for our country to include LGBT Americans as equal citizens, and today’s ruling is a major milestone toward realizing that goal. We congratulate and thank the Log Cabin Republicans for bringing this historic case.”


Live Chat: Prop 8 Trial Recap and Discussion with NCLR

January 28, 2010
Join NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter and Senior Staff Attorney Chris Stoll for a recap and analysis of the Prop 8 trial. Join the live chat today at Pam’s House Blend at 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Shannon and Chris have been in the courthouse everyday, live tweeting, and providing daily summaries and legal analysis of the proceedings.
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Day 12

NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 12

January 27, 2010

cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend

Today was the final day of testimony in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. Like every day before it, today was remarkable.

The majority of the day was spent on finishing up the cross-examination of David Blankenhorn, an expert witness for the defendants. As he did yesterday, renowned attorney David Boies absolutely nailed the examination. Blankenhorn did nothing to help himself, fighting Boies’s yes-or-no questions at every turn even when Boies was simply laying a basic foundation with uncontroversial points. Blankenhorn’s defensive behavior verged on the histrionic, contrasting sharply with Boies’s calm, matter-of-fact approach. At one point, Judge Walker stepped in and instructed Blankenhorn to keep in mind that a fact-finder, meaning a judge or jury, can consider a witness’s demeanor when deciding how credible that witness is and how seriously to take his or her testimony. Although Judge Walker delivered it with great diplomacy and tact, this was a fairly sharp rebuke.

On cross, Boies established a couple of key points that gravely undermined Blankenhorn’s authority as an expert on marriage. First, Boies elicited testimony that Blankenhorn had not read many leading scholarly articles addressing the question of how society would be affected by allowing same-sex couples to marry. For example, of the dozens of articles cited in policy statements supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples by leading professional organizations, Blankenhorn admitted that he had read scarcely more than a handful.  In contrast, all of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses were demonstrably well-versed in the entire range of scholarly literature on the topics about which they testified.

Second, Boies elicited extensive testimony from Blankenhorn acknowledging that permitting same-sex couples to marry would “almost certainly” benefit those couples and their children.  Blankenhorn also testified that  the most important dimensions of marriage (as defined by Blankenhorn in one of his publications) are the same for same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  In short, by the end of Blankenhorn’s cross, his own testimony had provided multiple powerful reasons to permit same-sex couples to marry, and his opposition to marriage equality seemed virtually inexplicable.

It has been an amazing two and a half weeks.  This trial has been a truly historic moment for our community.  It is the first time a federal court has heard, first hand, from real live witnesses, about the harm that the denial of marriage equality causes lesbians, gay men and their families every day.  It’s also the first time a federal court has heard the arguments in favor of marriage equality presented live in court by an array of internationally renowned scholars who are truly experts in their respective fields.

What stands out the most after having seen all the witnesses on both sides is how overwhelmingly one-sided the evidence in this case turned out to be.  The plaintiffs, represented by some  of the most skilled attorneys in the country, laid out a well-crafted, meticulous case, backed by the testimony of half a dozen of the most respected historians, psychologists, economists, and political scientists who study marriage, sexual orientation, and child development.  Using the Prop 8 proponents’ own outrageous and inflammatory words, ads, and emails, the plaintiffs powerfully demonstrated that Prop 8 was a direct product of hostility, fear-mongering, and demonization of lesbians and gay men.  And through the deeply moving testimony of the plaintiffs and other members of our community, they proved beyond question that denying same-sex couples the right to marry causes great harm to LGBT people and their children.

Stacked up against this mountain of facts, scholarship, and science, the Prop 8 proponents – though represented by fine attorneys – were not able to come forward with a case of their own.  Before trial, they dropped nearly every witness they had planned to present and relied entirely on two poorly qualified, ill-prepared expert witnesses, neither of whom was able to establish that banning same-sex couples from getting married has any rational or legitimate purpose relating to procreation, child rearing, tradition, or any of the other justifications that have been offered in the past in support of anti-gay discrimination.  In fact, nearly all of the defendants’ experts agreed with the plaintiffs that marriage equality would benefit same-sex couples and their families in many real, tangible ways.

It should not have come as a surprise that the defense’s case turned out to be so weak.  As our executive director Kate Kendell is fond of saying, the arguments against marriage equality have always been “all hat and no cattle.”  This trial showed more powerfully than ever that there truly is no substance to the arguments of those who would deny equality to our families.  It has been extremely gratifying to see those arguments aired out in public, before a smart, independent-minded judge, in a way that’s never been done before.  It is a shame that the public was unable to see the trial in video, but the transcripts, available at http://www.equalrightsfoundation.org/our-work/hearing-transcripts/, are fascinating reading for anyone interested in learning more about this important chapter in our civil rights struggle.

Judge Walker will now take some time to review all the evidence that has been presented.  The lawyers for both sides will return to court in a few weeks (on a date still to be determined) to present their closing arguments


NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 11

January 26, 2010

cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend

Today was one of the most dramatic days of the trial, with startling admissions by the proponents’ two expert witnesses: Professor Kenneth Miller, testifying about the political power of gay people, and David Blankenhorn, testifying about the purposes of marriage.

The morning began with the conclusion of David Boies’s cross-examination of Professor Miller. Boies confronted Prof. Miller with several of Prof. Miller’s own earlier writings, which were highly critical of the ballot initiative process and particularly highlighted the risk that majorities will use the initiative process to target minority groups. Prof. Miller admitted that ballot measures can, and have, drawn upon anti-minority sentiment. Indeed, one of Prof. Miller’s own articles cited Proposition 22, the California initiative prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples that passed in 2000, as an example of such an anti-minority initiative.

Following the conclusion of Prof. Miller’s testimony, the afternoon was taken up by questioning of the proponents’ final witness, David Blankenhorn, the president of a private think tank called the Institute for American Values. Blankenhorn is best known as the author of a book called Fatherless America, in which he argued that fatherlessness is “the most harmful demographic trend of this generation” and the leading cause of “our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women.” Blankenhorn is also one of the most visible and culturally influential opponents of marriage for same-sex couples.

The Prop 8 proponents asked Judge Walker to accept Blankenhorn as an expert in marriage, fatherhood, and family structures. But as plaintiffs’ attorney David Boies quickly made clear in his initial questioning, Blankenhorn lacked the usual qualifications for an expert witness in those areas. He has a bachelor’s degree in social science from Harvard and a master’s in the unrelated field of labor history from the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. He has no academic affiliation and has never taught at a college or university, and he has authored only two peer-reviewed publications, neither of which addressed marriage for same-sex couples. Judge Walker permitted Blankenhorn to testify, but noted that he might have ruled differently if this were a jury trial.

Charles Cooper (the lead attorney for the proponents) led Blankenhorn through what seemed to be a highly scripted presentation. Blankenhorn argued that the concept of marriage as “a socially approved sexual union between a man and a woman” is a “universal” definition that exists in every culture. He said the primary purpose of marriage is to make it as likely as possible that children will be raised by their biological parents.

Blankenhorn testified that he is opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry because, in his view, that would promote the idea that the purpose of marriage is to serve the needs of adults rather than children. He also claimed that permitting same-sex couples to marry will lead to reduced rates of marriage by heterosexual people, higher rates of divorce, and more children born out of wedlock.

Blankenhorn did not claim to have any scientific data supporting that belief. Instead, he argued that letting same-sex couples marry might contribute to the “deinstitutionalization” of marriage, which he defined (rather vaguely) as any change that weakens “the rules” of marriage. He testified that marriage is a social institution, like baseball, and that when the rules are changed, fewer people will want to play. Blankenhorn stressed that he could not be sure that letting same-sex couples marry would have that effect, but he feared that it would.

Blankenhorn also noted that he supports domestic partnerships for same-sex couples as “a humane compromise.” In the past, he explained, he had not given the issue of domestic partnership much thought. But after being challenged by Jonathan Rausch (a conservative gay author) in 2007, he concluded that even if providing domestic partnership for same-sex couples might also contribute to the deinstitutionalization of marriage, considerations of fairness made it worth the risk.

For the last hour of the day, plaintiffs’ attorney David Boies began what is sure to be a dramatic and grueling cross-examination. Repeatedly, Blankenhorn bridled at Boies’s questions and often refused to answer them, leading to several interventions by Judge Walker instructing Blankenhorn to respond. The bulk of the cross-examination is still to come tomorrow, but thus far, Blankenhorn has acknowledged that letting same-sex couples marry would be beneficial to the couples and their children. He also admitted that there are no studies showing that children of same-sex couples are worse off than children raised by heterosexual parents.

Tomorrow will be the last day on which evidence will be presented. Judge Walker has announced that he will then take a few weeks to review the evidence before scheduling closing arguments in the case.


NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 10

January 25, 2010

cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend

Today was another exciting day as the Prop 8 trial heads into the home stretch. The plaintiffs finished their case today, and defendants got started with their first witness, Professor Kenneth Miller.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys closed their case by playing excerpts from two simulcasts that were broadcast to gatherings of evangelical voters during the Prop 8 campaign. These simulcasts were sponsored and paid for by ProtectMarriage.com, the official Yes on 8 campaign organization. In the portions shown, one speaker said, “The polygamists are waiting in the wings, because if a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman, the polygamists are going to use that exact same argument and they probably are going to win.” Another speaker referred to a man marrying a horse, and a third speaker compared the impact of permitting same-sex couples to marry to the 9/11 attacks.

The videos of these outrageous statements, made in a forum sponsored and paid for by the official Yes on 8 campaign, provided a fitting end to the plaintiffs’ case. It brought the focus back to the long history of demonization the LGBT community has faced in the public sphere– from the grim historical events described in Professor George Chauncey’s testimony two weeks ago to the themes of the Yes on 8 campaign, as shown in today’s videos and the highly inflammatory testimony of Prop 8 proponent Dr. Bill Tam. The plaintiffs have done an admirable job of laying out the case that Prop 8 was a product of the same kind of prejudice that has driven many other anti-gay laws throughout our nation’s history.

After the plaintiffs rested their case, the Prop 8 proponents called their first witness, Prof. Kenneth Miller, who is a professor in the Department of Government at Claremont McKenna College. He was offered as an expert on the political power of gay men and lesbians in California and nationally. Prof. Miller defined political power as the ability to get the attention of lawmakers. In support of his conclusion that gay men and lesbians have significant power, he cited the support for LGBT causes in California among allies such as the Democratic Party and organized labor, the number of LGBT elected officials in California, and the number of LGBT-friendly laws that have been passed by the California legislature in recent years.

This simplistic analysis contrasted sharply with the nuanced approach adopted by the plaintiffs’ expert, Professor Gary Segura, in his testimony last week. Prof. Segura emphasized that to understand a group’s political power, one has to consider not only the number of legislative victories or the number of elected officials, but also the broader context-including factors such as the incidence of anti-gay hate violence, the number of initiatives attacking the civil rights of gay people and our persistent inability to defend ourselves against them, and the long history of government-sponsored discrimination against gay people in employment, which continues to the present day in the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. This rigorous attention to detail was notably lacking from Prof. Miller’s testimony.

In fact, under Prof. Miller’s definition of power as the ability to attract any favorable legislative attention, it’s hard to think of any group that would not qualify as politically powerful. Certainly, neither race nor gender would be a suspect classification under the Constitution, since many federal and state laws prohibited discrimination on those bases before the United States Supreme Court held that women and racial minorities were sufficiently politically powerless to merit constitutional protection. In contrast, we still do not have a single federal law that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, and, most states still permit employers to fire workers because of their sexual orientation. If Prof. Miller’s analysis were correct, no type of discrimination would be subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny.

In addition to offering a surprisingly superficial account of political power, Prof. Miller made several admissions that undermined his credibility as an expert. Under a withering cross-examination by David Boies, Prof. Miller admitted that, at the time of his deposition, he did not know how many states prohibited sexual orientation discrimination. He did not recognize many of the leading scholars on gay politics and history, and acknowledged that he had not read their work. He could not offer an opinion on whether gay people have more political power than African-Americans, even though much more of his scholarship has dealt with the African-American community than the LGBT community. He also declined to comment on the level of prejudice and negative stereotyping LGBT people face compared to other groups such as African-Americans or women. Prof. Miller did concede that lesbians must face more prejudice than other women, however, because they experience discrimination on the basis of both gender and sexual orientation.

Boies also questioned Prof. Miller at length about articles Prof. Miller has authored or coauthored that are critical of the initiative process. In fact, at times, it almost seemed that Prof. Miller might have been offered as an expert by the plaintiffs on the dangers of the initiative process. For example, Prof. Miller has written that initiatives violate the democratic norms of openness, fairness, and accountability and tend to preclude compromise and informed deliberation. When asked if he still agreed with those statements, Prof. Miller agreed that he did. He also acknowledged that initiatives are particularly troubling when they target disfavored minorities.

Tomorrow, Boies will continue his cross-examination of Prof. Miller in the morning, and the proponents then intend to call their final expert, David Blankenhorn, who is expected to testify about parenting by gay men and lesbians.


NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 8

January 21, 2010

cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend

Today was another blockbuster day in the Perry trial, with more razor sharp testimony from Professor Gary Segura, followed by disturbing testimony by one of the official proponents of Prop 8, Dr. Hak-Shing William (“Bill”) Tam.

Yesterday closed with expert testimony from Professor Segura, an authority on political representation. The plaintiffs called Professor Segura to provide evidence that LGBT people lack sufficient political power to effectively protect their own interests through the political process. This will help to establish that laws discriminating based on sexual orientation, like Prop 8, should receive heightened constitutional scrutiny.

Professor Segura returned to the stand this morning for a long, drawn-out cross-examination by the proponents’ attorney David Thompson.  Thompson’s strategy seemed to be to ask questions addressing the ways in which LGBT people have made some political progress, as if any evidence of progress indicates that LGBT people do not face discrimination.

Despite repeated promptings from Judge Walker to move things along, Thompson presented Professor Segura with repetitive examples of celebrities, prominent politicians, religious organizations, and businesses that have expressed support for LGBT people.  On redirect (brilliantly conducted by Ted Boutrous of Gibson Dunn), Professor Segura demolished Thompson’s attempt to paint a false picture of LGBT people as politically powerful.  In a few short strokes, Professor Segura explained that it is meaningless to compare only the number of groups on each side, without looking at their size, influence, and ability to mobilize voters.  For example, while hundreds of churches opposed Prop 8, literally thousands supported it.  By any reasonable measure, Professor Segura explained, the Prop 8 proponents were able to garner a magnitude of support that dwarfed that given to the other side.

Thompson also asked Professor Segura a series of questions about stories of alleged violence against Prop 8 supporters, including a particularly sensational interview of one alleged victim by Bill O’Reilly.  This is part of the defense’s (absurd) effort to show that voters enacted Prop 8 for reasons other than bias against LGBT people.  On redirect, Professor Segura testified that it was “doubtful in the extreme” that any significant portion of the Yes on 8 vote was based on alleged violence against Prop 8 supporters.  He also testified that there were significantly increased rates of anti-LGBT hate violence in California in 2008, and that any meaningful analysis would consider the incidence of violence on both sides.

Thompson’s cross-examination displayed a surprising lack of knowledge regarding the current state of laws affecting LGBT people. Continuing his attempt to show that LGBT people have political power, for example, Thompson asserted that LGBT have had “great political success” securing adoption rights. Professor Segura corrected him, noting that LGBT people have in fact suffered recent setbacks in several states that have enacted discriminatory adoption laws.

In a powerful final statement, Professor Segura testified that to conclude that gay people have political power after considering all the relevant evidence – from the incidence of anti-gay hate violence to the national juggernaut of anti-gay initiatives would be the equivalent of “political science malpractice.”

After lunch, the plaintiffs called Dr.  Tam, an official proponent of Prop 8.  Dr. Tam, a leader in the Chinese evangelical Christian community, was actively involved in the signature gathering effort and the Yes on 8 campaign.

Dr. Tam originally intervened in this case as a party to defend Prop 8, but recently sought to withdraw from the case, claiming that he fears harassment from having his name publicly  associated with the trial. Judge Walker decided to defer any ruling on whether Dr. Tam will be allowed to withdraw until after his testimony, noting that “there have to be some consequences to joining a case, making the other party litigate against you, and then dropping out.”

David Boies examined Dr. Tam as an adverse witness, meaning that leading questions were allowed as in a cross-examination.  It was a privilege to see him in action.  At a speedy pace, Boies led Dr. Tam through a series of documents showing that Dr. Tam was a leader in the Yes on 8 campaign and that he coordinated his activities closely with ProtectMarriage.com, the official campaign organization.  Boies’s skilled examination, with its laser-like precision, kept everyone in the courtroom on the edge of their seats for much of the afternoon.

Boies’s examination focused on several highly offensive and inflammatory statements that Dr. Tam and organizations in which he is involved have made about homosexuality and the so-called “gay agenda.”  By the end of the day, Boies had offered powerful evidence that the official Yes on 8 campaign organization and its campaign manager, Schubert Flint Public Affairs, were well aware of Dr. Tam’s outrageous statements before the election.

Dr. Tam testified that he is the Secretary of an organization, 1man1woman.net, whose website states that “studies show that homosexuality is linked to pedophilia,” and that “homosexuals are 12 times more likely to abuse children.” Dr. Tam testified that, to this day, he believes those statements are true.  Dr. Tam acknowledged that another document he authored in support of Prop. 8 claimed that after winning marriage equality, LGBT people intended to “legalize having sex with children.” Dr. Tam also acknowledged saying, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, “We hope to convince Asian-Americans that gay marriage will cause more children to experiment with the gay lifestyle, and that lifestyle comes with all kinds of disease.”

Boies wrapped up Dr. Tam’s testimony by establishing that the Yes on 8 campaign had a tightly coordinated public messaging policy, that the campaign coalition was well aware of Dr. Tam’s 1man1woman.net website, and that the campaign never asked him to take down any of the material on his website linking homosexuality with pedophilia.

It was clear by the end of Boies’s questioning that no matter how hard the official Prop 8 campaign might try to distance itself from Dr. Tam’s shocking anti-gay rhetoric and lies, Dr. Tam spoke as an official proponent who was also a day-to-day leader with real influence in the campaign.  Today’s testimony revealed the true face of the anti-marriage-equality movement, despite its current attempts to portray itself in a more moderate, media-friendly light. Those who actively campaign to deny equality to same-sex couples deliberately exploit the most vicious and false anti-gay stereotypes and create a climate of fear and hostility in which LGBT people are seen as less than fully human.

Tomorrow we will hear from Dr. Gregory Herek, an expert on sexual orientation, who will be the last witness for the plaintiffs.


NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 5

January 15, 2010

cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend

Today, in the final day of the first week of trial, we got to see more riveting, detailed testimony from the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, who have truly proven to be “experts” in the fullest sense of the word. We also heard the moving personal story of a woman who has seen firsthand the incredible transformative power that the simple act of marrying can have.

A tremendous body of social science has been laid out in this trial so far, and it has shown the irrationality of discrimination against LGBT people and our families in a truly unprecedented way. This morning’s first witness was Dr. Michael Lamb of Cambridge University. He is an expert in child and developmental psychology and has authored or edited more than 40 books and 500 articles on the subject. Dr. Lamb testified that there is substantial evidence showing that the children of same-sex couples would be better adjusted if their parents could marry, because children in general do better when their parents have adequate social support.

Dr. Lamb also testified unequivocally, based on the vast body of social science research in the field, that children of LGBT parents are just as well off psychologically as other children. Dr. Lamb did testify that there is one difference between children of LGBT parents and other children – on average, they grow up with less sex-stereotyped attitudes.

Dr. Lamb strongly refuted the Prop 8 proponents’ claim that it is necessary for children to have a male biological parent and a female biological parent in the home, undercutting one of their primary arguments. He testified that there is an “overwhelming consensus” among developmental psychologists today that gender is irrelevant to parenting. Dr. Lamb confirmed that the most significant factors for children’s psychological well-being are the love and support they get from their parents, and the stability of their relationships with both parents. Those factors do not favor different-sex parents over same-sex parents – rather, they suggest the importance of providing all families with the social and legal support needed to ensure that they can provide a stable, loving environment for their children, such as through marriage.

During the aggressive and lengthy cross-examination by attorney David Thompson, which lasted well into the afternoon, Dr. Lamb held firmly to those conclusions. Thompson relied on offensive stereotypes about men, attempting to press Dr. Lamb into agreeing that gender does matter in parenting and that children of LGBT parents are at a disadvantage. But Dr. Lamb calmly, politely, and consistently testified that when it comes to the traits that a good parent needs, gender makes no difference. He refuted every one of the sources that Thompson cited purporting to show that children raised by same-sex parents have more difficulties. For instance, when Thompson mentioned studies allegedly showing that children who grow up without a father in the home have more difficulties, Dr. Lamb patiently explained that those studies actually demonstrate the detriment that the trauma of divorce or the loss of a parental figure have on children’s emotional well-being. It was clear by the end of Dr. Lamb’s testimony that there is simply no credible evidence to suggest that the gender or sexual orientation of a child’s parents makes a bit of difference to mental health outcomes.

Asian-American author and activist Helen Zia was the final witness of the week. Under direct examination by Danny Chou, deputy city attorney with the City and County of San Francisco, she testified about a number of encounters with hurtful homophobic prejudice that kept her closeted for years. Zia described some of the shocking abuse she experienced from strangers during the Prop 8 campaign, including being called a “f—ing dyke” and being told she would “rot in hell.”

Zia also shared the love story of her courtship and marriage with her wife, Lia. Zia described how they registered as domestic partners with the City of San Francisco years ago at a window in City Hall that “also gave out dog licenses.” When they registered as domestic partners with the state of California a few years later, she said, they didn’t even get to go to a “dog-license window” – they simply filled out a form and mailed it in. But it was when the couple finally legally married in 2004 – though that marriage was invalidated by the California Supreme Court five months later – that they finally experienced, for the first time, a taste of true equality. (Zia and her wife subsequently re-married in 2008, during the period before Prop 8 passed.)

Zia testified that once they married, both of their families finally recognized them as part of the family, rather than, for example, referring to Lia as “Helen’s friend.” She described the moving scene just a few months ago when the couple visited Lia’s father, who has since passed away, in hospice. The hospice staff asked, “Are these your daughters?” and he replied proudly, “No, this is my daughter, and this is my favorite daughter-in-law.”

Stories like Helen Zia’s make it impossible to ignore the pain that anti-LGBT bigotry, exacerbated by legal inequality, causes every member of our community. It’s difficult to listen to these stories and be reminded of the hurt and shame that we often try to suppress. But Zia’s story also carries in it the seeds of hope – the genuine joy that wells up when LGBT people experience true acceptance. Every person deserves that feeling of acceptance and support. That is what this case is fighting for.


The Marriage Test

January 14, 2010

Los Angeles Times editorial

In what ways would same-sex marriages be the same as or different from heterosexual marriages? Answer: It’s nobody’s business.

Yet the matter was explored at length in court this week by an expert for the plaintiffs — the pro-gay-marriage group challenging Proposition 8. Homosexual couples are much the same as heterosexual couples, Letitia Peplau, a UCLA professor of social psychology, testified. They form relationships in which the closeness and stability measure as high.

read more


NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter on Perry v Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 3

January 13, 2010

cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend

As other bloggers and news outlets have reported, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a final order today preventing the trial from being broadcast. The 5-4 opinion was unsigned, meaning that its authorship was not attributed to any one justice.  The court largely ducked the substantive issue of whether federal trials should be more accessible to a broader public, holding that the San Francisco district court judges had not followed the proper procedures when they amended the local court rules to allow the broadcast.  Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito were in the majority.

In a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Sotomayor, Justice Breyer challenged the majority’s interpretation of the rule-changing procedures and  strongly disputed that the broadcast would cause harm. Justice Breyer described the majority’s ruling as an “extraordinary intervention,””micromanaging” local court procedure, and stated that “the public interest weighs in favor of granting access to the courts.”

Although many had anticipated this outcome, it is deeply disappointing. As Geoff Kors of Equality California pointed out in his statement about the ruling, this trial presents an unprecedented opportunity to educate people across the country about our community and about why the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be given access to marriage. The public could only benefit from the opportunity to see firsthand that the arguments made by the proponents of Prop 8, both during the campaign and now in court, are so clearly false and demeaning. Those of us attending the trial will have to fill the gap by passing along as much of what we see and hear as we can. NCLR will continue to tweet live from the court – follow @NCLRights for frequent updates on testimony.

Trial resumed this morning with David Thompson’s cross-examination of Professor George Chauncey.  Thompson asked primarily about the progress LGBT people have made, politically and in popular culture, in the last 20 years.

In his cross, Thompson highlighted employment nondiscrimination bills, the increasing numbers of gay and lesbian elected officials, and the very recent increase in support for domestic partnerships and civil unions among national Democratic leaders.  He also focused on the increasing depiction of gay men and lesbians in popular culture, such as the TV series “Will and Grace” and films such as Brokeback Mountain and Philadelphia.

Prof. Chauncey acknowledged that LGBT people have made progress. But he also stressed the limited nature of that progress and the persistence of severe discrimination and hostility toward gay people.  Even today, he noted, there are remarkably few films that include openly LGBT characters and a continued paucity of scholarship exploring the history and contemporary reality of LGBT lives (to mention just two examples).

Thompson’s questions were directed to an important legal issue in this case -whether systemic bias against lesbians and gay men prevents them from being treated by others as equal citizens in the political process.  In prior cases, federal courts have sometimes considered that issue in deciding whether to apply heightened scrutiny to laws that classify on the basis of a particular characteristic such as race, gender, religion, disability, age, and so forth.   If a court determines that widespread (and unjustified) bias prevents a group from being able to fully protect itself in the elected branches of government, it is more likely to find that the group should be afforded heightened constitutional protection under the federal equal protection clause.

On that score, it’s worth noting – and the Olson/Boies team will no doubt argue – that laws that discriminate on the basis of race are still subject to the strictest type of constitutional review, even though it’s been more than a half century since Brown v. Board of Education was decided and nearly half a century since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Likewise, laws that discriminate based on sex are still subject to a heightened level of scrutiny even though a majority of the voting public are women.  By contrast, for example, there is still no federal statute prohibiting private employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation, despite decades of effort to get those protections passed.  And the federal government itself still openly discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation in federal military, marriage, and immigration law-as do the laws of most states.  By any measure, anti-gay bias continues to permeate our laws and culture.

After the cross-exam, Therese Stewart, attorney for the City of San Francisco, asked Professor Chauncey to analyze some of the messages used in the Yes on 8 campaign.  Stewart focused on statements made by one of the official proponents of Prop 8, Dr. Hak-Shing William (“Bill”) Tam. Stewart played excerpts of Dr. Tam’s deposition, featuring some extraordinarily inflammatory messages in campaign documents authored by Tam.

One of Dr. Tam’s publications claimed that if Prop 8 did not pass, other states would “fall into Satan’s hands.” The document also claimed that “more children would become homosexuals,” and that the next item on the “gay agenda” would be to “legalize having sex with children.”  Prof. Chauncey connected these messages, delivered by one of Prop 8′s official sponsors, with the long history of fear-mongering and demonization of lesbians and gay men that he eloquently described yesterday.

In the afternoon, the court heard testimony from social psychologist Anne Peplau, one of the country’s leading academic experts on couples and relationships.  Kudos to Christopher Dusseault of Gibson Dunn for his skillful handling of the direct and redirect of Professor Peplau.  His performance was a model of precision and highly effective.

Prof. Peplau offered four expert opinions: (1) most individuals who marry gain physical, psychological, and social benefits from being married; (2) the quality and stability of same-sex relationships are similar to those of heterosexual relationships; (3) if permitted to marry, same-sex couples will derive the same benefits from marriage as heterosexual couples; and (4) permitting same-sex couples to marry will not harm the institution of marriage in any way. These opinions disprove the defense’s argument that allowing same-sex couples to marry would fundamentally change and undermine marriage, and support the plaintiffs’ claim that marriage is a basic civil right that same-sex couples need and are entitled to.

During her cross of Prof. Peplau, attorney Nicole Moss tried to elicit an admission from Prof. Peplau that same-sex couples differ from heterosexual couples in some relevant way.  Prof. Peplau reiterated that there are no relevant differences.  But at Moss’s insistence, she did confirm that a lesbian couple cannot “accidentally” procreate a child through spontaneous generation-one of the few moments today that elicited universal laughter.

Tomorrow we will hear from three experts discussing the impact of marriage discrimination on our community.  Again, follow @NCLRights for a blow-by-blow from the court.


Watch Kate Kendell’s Report from the Frontlines of the Prop 8 Trial

January 13, 2010

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