Marriage: made/un-made in California

In the marriage equality case now being heard in San Francisco, and presumably headed for the Supreme Court, it’s worth looking at the points being made and the people being heard. One person being heard this week was the pro-Proposition 8 (i.e. the defendants, who want to keep the ban on same-sex marriage) star witness David Blankenhorn.

Blankenhorn, touted as scholar and expert authority for reasons I don’t fully understand, is the founder and president of the Institute for American Values. His values aren’t exactly my values, but never mind. We are each American, and a case could be made for institutionalizing us both.

If you visit the IAV website, which seems initially designed to sell books (Blankenhorn and his fellows are industrious authors) because books get front-page billing, you are then invited to “Jump directly into the think tank!” — IAV being, as noted, a scholarly operation. This is what you will learn about IAV if you float to the top of the tank:

The Institute for American Values, founded in 1987, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to study and strengthen key American values. The Institute brings together leading scholars from across the human sciences and across the political spectrum for interdisciplinary deliberation, collaborative research, and to issue joint public statements.

We ask: What are the cultural values most closely associated, especially in the American context, with human flourishing? That is, what are those ideas and practices that tend to produce competence, character, citizenship, thriving families, and a vibrant civil society?

What are the main challenges to those values? And how can those values be encouraged and strengthened?

In operational terms, our mission can be stated concisely: Through groundbreaking research and analysis focusing on fundamental American values, and in forging strong and diverse partnerships, the Institute seeks to strengthen families and civil society globally.

Blankenhorn testified that extending marriage rights to those unable to conceive and bear children — this would have ruled out my final union, since we were 58 and 62 at the time — would change it from “a child-based public institution to an adult-centered private institution” and lead to all manner of horrors, polygamy, that sort of thing. As San Francisco Chronicle writer Bob Egelko reported, in what is ongoing, thorough coverage of the trial,

Blankenhorn, the trial’s last scheduled witness, said he believes “leading scholars” share his view that same-sex marriage would weaken heterosexuals’ respect for the institution and accelerate a half-century-old trend of increased cohabitation and rising divorce rates.

But under cross-examination by a lawyer for two same-sex couples, Blankenhorn was unable to cite any supporting statements or evidence for that conclusion from the scholars he relied on for his testimony, though he said he was sure some of them would agree with him.

Blankenhorn did get tangled up a bit in his testimony, leaving one to wonder how thoroughly the Prop 8 folks read his research. Or how solid is the thinking in the IAV tank.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer David Boies also pointed to a passage in Blankenhorn’s 2007 book, “The Future of Marriage,” that appeared to contradict his entire position.

“We would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before,” Blankenhorn wrote.

He said Tuesday he still holds that view, and also believes that allowing gays and lesbians to marry would probably be good for the couples and their children.

Go figure. Some of us watching this unfold are old enough to remember when my native state, the Commonwealth of Virginia, decided it would be all right for Mr. and Mrs. Loving to live there as husband and wife, even though they were of different racial backgrounds. Until that day, in 1967, the arguments had been that allowing people of different ethnicities to wed was bad for everyone. It may seem ridiculous now, but it was the law of the land in more than one state then.

The Bible is going to come in here somewhere before this is all over, since same-sex marriage opponents believe it is wrong because their Bible tells them so. Biblical invocation could be speculation on this writer’s part, but the Mormon Church and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pretty well got Prop 8 passed, so I think it unlikely they will stay out of any Supreme Court battle. Their Bible isn’t my Bible. Uh, oh; yes it is. Interestingly though, my Jesus taught love and compassion while their Jesus teaches that some of His children are less equal than others.

At the beginning of this trial (in which two same-sex couples are the plaintiffs) Chief U.S District Judge Vaughn Walker posed this question: How does a ban on same-sex weddings protect marriage, the stated goal of Proposition 8? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Whatever the verdict, it is expected that it will be appealed to the Supreme Court. So this may be about marriages made — or un-made — in California right now, but it will be a question of equal rights for all Americans tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Prop. 8 witness warns of societal upheaval.

Same-sex marriage trial underway in San Francisco — but no You Tube coverage for now

Shortly before the trial focusing on California’s Proposition 8 opened this morning, the Supreme Court blocked video of the proceedings on You Tube. Judging from the line-up of TV trucks and the impassioned testimony going on inside, it’s likely that a good sense of the action will be available.  But no on-site video.  Opponents of Prop. 8 had hailed an earlier order to allow posting of video on You Tube, but supporters of the anti-gay marriage initiative mounted a strong argument to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban such action. An updated story link is included at the end of this earlier post.

California’s Proposition 8, the voter initiative that said marriage must be only for couples who can produce children, came up for discussion in a San Francisco courtroom beginning today.

The cameras-in-the-courtroom mini-drama, launched when maverick Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in favor of the YouTube postings, has become a significant sidelight to the main issue of the case.  Prop. 8 supporters fear their witnesses will be afraid to testify — public support of bigotry still being unpopular in California despite what the voters did when they passed the initiative; gay rights supporters are coming out, once more, for openness.

“What are they afraid of?” asked California State Senator Mark Leno Saturday. Leno was asked for his opinion while attending House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s celebration with supporters in San Francisco. “As an advocate for open and transparent government,” he said, “what is there to fear? Taxpayers should be able to see the courts they pay for in action.” Leno, the first openly gay man elected to the California Senate and long a leader in gay rights and other progressive causes, called the State Supreme Court’s earlier ruling that upheld Prop. 8 last May “a rallying cry for all Californians who believe in equality and fairness… to stand up and fight the pervasive injustices LGBT people face in our community and our nation.”

The current primary issue, whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry, is being argued in San Francisco federal court beginning today. Judge Walker, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, has made it clear he anticipates his ruling will be appealed.

For two couples and their allies who have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the November 2008 initiative was merely the latest example of historic discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Same-sex marriage poses no threat to opposite-sex couples, children or the public welfare, they argue, and a ballot measure that revoked the marital rights of one “disfavored group of citizens” was an unconstitutional appeal to fear and prejudice.

For Prop. 8’s sponsors, a religious coalition called Protect Marriage, anti-gay bias is no longer significant in California, where legislators have legalized domestic partnerships and twice voted to authorize same-sex marriage. Discrimination also had nothing to do with the ballot measure, which merely wrote the time-honored definition of marriage into the state Constitution, they argue.

Extending wedlock to gays and lesbians, they maintain, would radically redefine marriage, weaken biological parents’ connection with their children, tell men that “they have no significant place in family life” and force many religious Americans to “choose between being a believer and being a good citizen.”

The competing legal theories that will come up in court are a bit simpler: whether Prop. 8 violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender, or whether it validly reserves marital status for those who can naturally conceive children.

The initiative overturned a May 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gays and lesbians to marry in California. The state high court upheld Prop. 8 in May 2009 in a challenge by gay rights advocates whose claims involved only state law and not the U.S. Constitution.

A few days before the state court ruling, two couples and a recently formed advocacy group, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, sued in federal court. Their lawyers are the unlikely duo of Theodore Olson and David Boies, who represented George W. Bush and Al Gore, respectively, in the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.

Established gay rights organizations had avoided federal court, fearing a possible adverse ruling by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court. But with the fate of same-sex marriage in California, and possibly elsewhere, at stake in the trial, the advocates are all on board and most have filed supportive briefs.

Prop. 8’s sponsors – vaulted into the case by state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s refusal to defend the measure – say its clear-cut goal was to reinforce traditional marriage, and any inquiry into the campaign’s allegedly hidden motives is both intrusive and pointless.

“The traditional definition of marriage does not reflect animus against gays and lesbians,” attorney Charles Cooper said in court papers. “It simply reflects the fact that the institution of marriage is, and has always been, uniquely concerned with promoting and regulating naturally procreative relationships between men and women to provide for the nurture and upbringing of the next generation,” Cooper wrote.

The trial will test such assertions, with competing experts arguing about the history and meaning of marriage, the adequacy of domestic partnership as a marital substitute, and the social and political status of gays and lesbians.

Walker has kept his views to himself, but his rulings so far have dismayed some of Prop. 8’s supporters, who appear to be bracing their followers for a short-term defeat.

“The consistency with which the judge has sided with our opponents is anything but comforting to supporters of traditional marriage,” Andrew Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage, said in a letter to backers of the measure last week.

Fortunately, Pugno said, the last word will come from “the nine justices on the highest court in the nation.”

Prop. 8 trial begins today.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/01/11/state/n080724S48.DTL&tsp=1