Prop 8 closing arguments made, decision in a few weeks

Attorneys for and against Proposition 8, California's gay marriage ban, delivered closing arguments in federal court on Wednesday before Judge Vaughn Walker, who is expected to rule on the ban in the next few weeks. Both sides have vowed to appeal the judge's decision to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Alaska, and possibly to the Supreme Court.

Attorney Ted Olson, representing the same sex couples, told the court that marriage is a fundamental right and that Proposition 8 designates gay men and lesbians as second-class citizens entitled to "less honor, less status, and fewer benefits." More quotes from Olson's rebuttal (based on the live-blogging at AFER, which will also be posting the official transcripts):
"What we are talking about here is allowing individuals who have the same impulses, the same drives, the same desires as all of the rest of us to have a relationship in harmony, stability, and to form a family in a neighborhood, all of those things that the Supreme Court talked about. And now tell me how it helps the rest of the citizens of California to keep them out of the club? It doesn't."

"... you are discriminating against a group of people, you are causing them harm, you are excluding them from an important part of life and you have to have a good reason for that. And I submit at the end of the day 'I don't know' and 'I don't have any evidence,' with all due respect to Mr. Cooper, it does not cut it. It does not cut it when you are taking away the basic human rights and human decency from a large group of individuals and you don't know why they are a threat to your particular institution."

"You cannot then in the face of all those decisions by the United States Supreme Court say to these individuals we are going to take away the constitutional right to liberty, privacy, association and sexual intimacy that we tell you that you have, and then we will now use that as a basis for not allowing you the freedom to marry. That is not acceptable. It's not acceptable under our constitution. And Mr. Blankenhorn is absolutely right, the day that we end that we will be more American."
In the NCLR analysis of the closing arguments for Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Senior Staff Attorney Christopher Stoll wrote,
Today's arguments overwhelmingly demonstrated the volume and strength of the plaintiffs' evidence, and the complete lack of evidence in support of Proposition 8.

Theodore Olson of Gibson, Dunn did a masterful job for the plaintiffs. He focused his presentation on the two plaintiff couples' moving testimony about why marriage is important to them. Olson also highlighted the testimony from all of the expert witnesses - on both sides of the case - who unanimously agreed that marriage would enhance the well-being of same-sex couples and their kids. Olson hammered home the point that during the election, Prop 8 backers argued that children needed be "protected" from gay people -- but during the trial, the Prop 8 backers did not raise this argument, which echoes themes that anti-gay forces have used for decades to stigmatize and marginalize gay men and lesbians. Instead, the attorneys defending Prop 8 argued that same-sex couples must be excluded from marriage because the purpose of marriage is procreation. Olson countered that the right to marry, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is about the individual right to form a family, whether or not procreation is involved.

Asked by Judge Walker to describe the evidence supporting his position, Charles Cooper, the attorney defending Proposition 8, repeatedly said that there was no need for evidence to support his case. At one point, he claimed that even the single expert witness on his side, David Blankenhorn, had been unnecessary, because simply looking at the dictionary would show that the definition of marriage presumes procreation. Judge Walker asked Cooper about different-sex couples who cannot or do not procreate, and about different-sex married couples who do not procreate "naturally" because they adopt children or need medical assistance to conceive. Cooper returned time and again to the argument that marriage is needed in order to "channel" heterosexual people into having sex, and procreating, within marriage, but was unable to point to any evidence from trial that allowing same-sex couples to marry would have any effect on the "channeling" of heterosexual reproduction into marriage.

Judge Walker's sharply questioned both Olson and Cooper about the facts presented at the trial. Although it's risky to predict how a judge might be leaning based on the questions he asked, several of Judge Walker's suggested that he might be considering applying some type of heightened scrutiny to Prop 8 because it discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation. Judge Walker indicated that in his view, whether a trait is "immutable" and whether the excluded group lacks political power are not the key factors supporting heightened scrutiny. Instead, his questions indicated that he considers it more important that the group have a long history of discrimination based on a factor that is irrelevant to their ability to contribute to society. Based on the evidence presented at trial, that would certainly be true of gay men and lesbians. Ted Olson and David Boies's team put on compelling expert testimony about the long and painful history of discrimination against LGBT people. If the judge does decide to apply some type of heightened scrutiny, it's very hard to see how Prop 8 could be upheld. The defenders of Prop 8 offered no evidence that there was even a rational reason, let alone a compelling one, for the voters to single out one category of California couples for unequal treatment under the law.
The following In The Life video posted on Tuesday provides a good visual background to the case, the trial, and the closing arguments:

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