Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SCOTUS and equality opponents: the courage of conviction?

As the Federal Prop8 trial (Perry v. Schwarzenegger) enters its second week, we are all relying heavily on the live-bloggers and tweeters to keep us informed, given that the SCOTUS agreed with the Defendant-Intervenors (the Bad Guys) and banned broadcast of the trial.

This decision was based ostensibly on the fear of the Prop8 proponents that their witnesses would be harassed, threatened and injured if people knew who they are. Because you KNOW how much violence there has been, right? Right? Yes, not so much. Despite the endless claims of roving bands of homos beating up on people, there is a paucity of evidence that anything dangerous has actually happened-- even though donor lists pro- and con- Prop8 were public in CA. Sure, there have been a few boycotts, but that tactic goes both ways.

In fact, in the aftermath of Prop8, its supporters made numerous unsubstantiated claims of violence. They accused the marriage equality supporters of terrorism --they even compared us to Al Qaeda for daring to march and claim the right of free speech! Let's not forget this.

And these experts and proponents of Prop8 who are reputedly so fearful, were certainly unafraid to be seen on camera during the run-up to the election, when you couldn't escape from them. Perhaps more telling is that, despite banning the broadcast, the Prop8 supporters' fearful witnesses have still retreated. It seems more likely that their withdrawal has something to do with the fact that their bias may actually be exposed-- see for example William Tam, who attempted to withdraw as a defendant-intervenor. His issue may be less about safety, than privacy, as noted by the Box Turtle Bulletin
I do not like the burden of complying with discovery requests. I do not like people questioning me on my private personal beliefs.
Of course he had no such qualms about sharing those beliefs to deny GLBT people of equal rights for months and years. (He also thinks the "gay agenda" is based on sex with children and was founded in Chicago in 1972. I am looking forward to his examination by the Olson / Boies team.)

Or perhaps it has something to do with the cross-examination of the expert witnesses, because some of them apparently don't look so good in the deposition tapes where they had to backtrack on their testimony.
In the end, these experts might end up blowing up in the defense’s face. If Boies and team is able to show what he claims, that their testimony was without basis, the experts have opened themselves to charges of perjury. Removing the possibility that the defense team knew about the baselessness of the depositions, because such a circumstance would be an egregious violation of professional responsibility, this also has huge implications for the case. If the defense experts admitted that there is no basis to say there is harm to straight marriages, that point becomes a big longshot to recover for the defense.
This embarrassment tends to happen when you are wrong, or careless, or somewhat ....stingy with the truth.

Both the LA Times and NY Times Op Ed pages decried the SCOTUS decision to hide the case. From the LA Times:
"Reasonable minds," the majority wrote, can differ over televised court proceedings. Fair enough, but some significant number of them also will be troubled by the five justices' blanket adoption of the assertion that televising the testimony of expert witnesses called to defend Proposition 8 -- including those being paid -- would create "irreparable harm" by exposing them to embarrassment and "harassment." If you accept that, you're on a path whose logical conclusion is secret testimony. It's easy enough to excerpt trial transcripts and post them on the Web. Doesn't that "expose" witnesses in any socially or politically divisive case to potential harassment? Television may accelerate the process, but the way text and photographs ricochet around the Internet these days, it's just a matter of degree -- and a rapidly diminishing one at that.

Moreover, as Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed out in a 10-page dissent, in this particular case the witnesses "are all experts or advocates who have either already appeared on television or Internet broadcasts, already toured the state advocating a 'yes' vote on Proposition 8." What is there about these proceedings that will make them more vulnerable to reprisals than they already are?

That brings us squarely to the majority's troubling subtextual suggestion that there is something uniquely threatening -- even sinister -- about the activities of gays and lesbians advocating marriage equality. It's true that a tiny handful of activists on the movement's fringe have behaved outrageously toward opponents of same-sex marriage, but that criticism can't be made against the plaintiffs in this case. They've simply sought vindication of their rights through the courts, the very definition of law-abiding.
The Courage Campaign reminds of what's at stake in this:
The legal system exists precisely to counteract those kinds of situations, to provide those who have had their rights attacked or taken away the ability to confront those who have done so and take back their rights. And that in turn is precisely why ProtectMarriage.com wants to undermine the legal system in order to undermine marriage. If they can’t win fairly, then they’ll try to undermine the systems and institutions that ensure fairness.

Secret courtrooms and hidden testimony are antithetical to our principles of justice.
And for an issue discussed almost exclusively in superficial media soundbites and advertising hyperbole, it is particularly disheartening to have hidden from public view the reasoned discussion of evidence in a courtroom that actually relies on facts and data, not lies and misinformation.

There's now another SCOTUS case, this one not just a request for an injunction, but a full-blown case, that the Court has agreed to hear, called John Doe vs. Reed. You may recall in Washington state last year the referendum on civil unions, in which the voters only narrowly approved generous partnership benefits. (The campaign against Referendum 71 provides yet another example of how the argument isn't about marriage, it's about ANY recognition of our families).

Washington has a law that releases the names of people who sign petitions to put referenda on the ballot. The proponents of discrimination want their names hidden, and in the case John Doe vs Reed, ask the SCOTUS to allow them to do so. From Pam's House Blend, a discussion of this case which asks the Court to
a. Declare Wash. Rev. Code § 42.56.070 unconstitutional to the extent that it requires the Secretary of State to make the Referendum 71 petition, or any petition related to the definition or [sic] marriage or the rights and responsibilities that should be accorded to same-sex couples, submitted to the Secretary of State's office available to the public;

b. Enjoin Defendants from making the Referendum 71 petition, or any petition related to the definition or [sic] marriage or the rights and responsibilities that should be accorded to same-sex couples, available to the public pursuant to the Public Records Act, Wash. Rev. Code § 42.56.001 et seq., or otherwise;....
ONLY for this issue, note. They are seeking to cover up ONLY the opponents to marriage equality and civil unions. Unlike NOM, which is trying to overturn completely the campaign transparency law in Maine, the Washington folks want protection specifically, and ONLY, for petitioners involving same sex marriage or civil unions.

The irony is noted by the NY Times Opinionator :
Has anyone noticed that now that lesbians and gay men have left the closet to assert their equal rights as citizens, their adversaries seem to be running for a closet of their own?
But the Opinionator comments, more disturbingly,
A question now is whether the opponents of same-sex marriage can plausibly claim, as their court papers have sought to do, that they face threats to their lives and property comparable to those faced by civil rights workers in the Deep South in the 1950s and 1960s.
Did you catch that? Let's make this clear. The opponents of marriage equality (AND civil unions) are claiming the mantle of honor for themselves, and as they strip the rights away from a persecuted GLBT community, they have the utter audacity to compare themselves to freedom marchers in the Civil Rights movement.

It is gob-smacking: those hiding under the hoods are pretending to be forces for justice. And it is even more outrageous if the courts let them get away with it.

David LInk at the conservative Independent Gay Forum writes,
People who believe they are right should be willing to own the morality of their cause, even when that means taking very real, sometimes severe risks such as going to jail, or even being killed — neither of which anyone opposed to gay equality can truthfully claim. That’s what lesbians and gay men have had to do to get where we are. Perhaps that’s harsh, but I’m having a very hard time seeing how name-calling really counts as a similar sort of abuse, or how risking some loss of government funds equates with actual peril in a way that would justify refusing to air arguments in a public forum like a court of law.
And Firedoglake chimes in, remarking upon the hypocrisy of the conservative viewpoint:
Sure, harassment is fine and dandy when you’re the one brandishing firearms and shouting down congresspeople at townhalls, or yelling at women going into family planning clinics, but when there’s even the slightest chance that someone might call you a bigot, well, that’s just as bad as the KKK killing Freedom Riders.

It’s a truly amazing lack of perspective. Gays are persecuted, discriminated against, bullied, beaten, raped, and murdered; many of them feel they have to conceal the very essence of who they are to fit in and be safe. Gay marriage opponents? The worst that’ll happen to them is that they’ll get picketed or insulted, or get the cold shoulder from residents of the 21st century. But apparently the risk of facing intolerance of one’s own intolerance is too steep a price to pay for defending The Most Important Institution Evar.
Many of these people who want to hide under a hood claim to be Christians (which insults the many, many Christian faith groups who support fairness and inclusivity.) Perhaps it is time for them to actually READ the Bible that they thump so passionately:
And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
John 3:19-21

1 comment:

IT said...

Jerry Sanders, Republican Mayor of san Diego and former police chief, testified yesterday about why he changed his mind about equality. At the press conference afterwards, he said:
I know that one of the things that I saw today and one of the things that probably you saw is that the other side would like us to think that all of a sudden the Yes people are being discriminated against and there's violence against them. I have to tell you, as a police officer for over 26 years, as a mayor, that is not what I've seen. I have seen violence against gays and lesbians in the community, I've seen hate crimes, I've seen people beat to death, I've seen people almost beat to death, and never has that been somebody that was for Yes on Proposition 8. Instead, it's always been the gay and lesbian community that's felt the brunt of hate crimes.

Before I became mayor I spent 26 years on the San Diego Police Department, and I'm very proud of the career that I had, and I witnessed, in the early years, discrimination in both the department and the city and, as I've said, I've seen discrimination and hate crimes occur in the city of San Diego.