Perry v. Schwarzenegger: closing arguments
June 16th, 2010
Today Judge Walker Vaughn heard closing testimony, a very active process in which the judge asked a great many questions. From an information perspective this was basically a recap of the case, with each side seeking to present their evidence in the best light. But it was the opportunity for the judge to get each side to clarify and flesh out exactly what legal theory they were using for their argument.
First up: Ted Olson, the conservative icon who surprised anti-gay activists by declaring equality to be a conservative principle and by leading the case to reverse Proposition 8.
Olson talked about the various perspectives of those who are involved in the fight. He pointed out that the supporters of Prop 8 had one story during the campaign (protect the children) and an entirely other one during the case (deinstitutionalization of marriage). But for the plaintiffs, this is the most important choice they can make as an adult: who to marry.
Olson talked about how other relationships were not the same as marriage and had not been considered the same in American history. Slaves could enter informal relationships, but when freed and able to marry they found that the “marriage covenant is the foundation of all our rights.” When Loving v Virginia overturned racial restrictions, it removed a stigma.
He discussed how marriage equality makes gay families and their kids “okay”. How it reduces the burden on gay families, but also make America more American (according to the defense’s witness, David Blankenhorn).
Olson told the judge that his decision to allow a full trial on the merits of the proposition has provided evidence and been an education. He compared it to Brown v. Board of Education (the 1954 case which tossed out the “separate but equal” racially discriminatory education system). He lays out the long string of cases in which the SCOTUS has moved towards greater equality, at times overturning previous decisions.
And he laid out the case’s strongest argument: this is government imposed stigma placed in the state constitution. Further, the California Supreme Court did not “create a window” of rights. The right to marry the person of one’s choice had always existed, the CA Court simply recognized that right. The SCOTUS has found the right to marriage to be a fundamental right, and in Lawrence they found that homosexual behavior was a constitutional intimacy right. Applying each case atop the other, Olson said:
It can’t be constitutional to take away a constitutional right because a person engaged in a constitutionally protected behavior.
Olson argued for strict scrutiny, but said the case fails on any scrutiny. There is no state interest and “Because I say so” is not a reason for continued discrimination.
The voters passed Proposition 8 so as to say that same-sex marriage is not okay, to say that gay people are not okay. That is malice. It is not a constitutionally valid reason for denying rights to a class of people. Proposition cannot be found to be supportable in this case by any good valid reason, because no good valid reason was presented to support it.
And that concluded Olson’s closing statements.
Therese Stewart, on behalf of the City of San Francisco, spoke about the costs to the city: institutionalized discrimination increases mental health cost, the policing costs associated with increased hate crimes, costs for addressing bullying, the cost of lost tourism. But it would also cost the city its ability to treat all of its citizens equally.
The Governor and the Attorney General formally waived their right to defend Proposition 8 with closing arguments.
The judge then made an interesting observation. It seems that in most counties when you apply for a marriage license, there is no requirement on the form itself that you be opposite-sex. That really, from an administrative perspective, the decision to issue a license is up to the county clerk. The same is true for the issuance of domestic partnerships to heterosexual couples under the age of 62.
I’m not sure where the judge was going with that. But then they broke for lunch.
After lunch, Charles Cooper presented his closing arguments in defense of Proposition 8.
He argued that restricting marriage to the opposite sex was fundamental to the existence and survival of the human race. The purpose of marriage is for procreation. And without state-defined marriage, society would come to an end.
The judge pointed out that because the state has no requirement that married couples procreate – or even have the capacity or intention of doing so – that there must be some other purpose for marriage. Cooper rhetorically pondered the ways a state might go about insisting on procreation, suggesting that they were ludicrous, but the judge agreed that for his argument to be logical that these would be reasonable steps. None of them are required.
Cooper revised the purpose of marriage to be a that of increasing the likelihood that natural procreation be within the confines of marriage. Walker countered that marriage obligations extend far beyond the control of sexual behaviors.
What happened next was the defense’s worst nightmare. The judge asked Cooper for the evidence to support his premise. Cooper tried to quote various sources but the judge pointed out that none of these sources testified, that defense had only brought one witness “and I think it’s safe to say his testimony was equivocal.”
Cooper was left replying that there was no need for a witness, that there was no need for evidence, that it was obvious. The judge was not much impressed with the “I ain’t need no evidence” defense.
Cooper argued that up until 30 years ago no one considered same-sex marriage. Therefore it just must automatically be tied to procreation. But now gay people want to marry.
The judge then asked if these changes in the past 30 years might not, as was the case with Loving, be at a tipping point at which the purpose for marriage has changed in the public conscience. Cooper struggled to explain how racist restrictions differ because they had no basis in historical definitions [he may want to read more history], that miscegenation laws created illegitimate children [he may not actually have been listening to the words he was saying].
Cooper argued that the sole distinction – the sole criteria for legitimate marriage – was the ability to procreate “normally”. The judge failed to see how assisted fertility could not also be applied.
So Cooper shifted gears again and declared that the state had a right to “strengthen social norms”. He discussed children born out of wedlock and that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was a way to protect against this increasing trend.
[So Cooper has within this testimony declared the purpose of marriage to be encouraging procreation so as to further the survival of the species; he then changed his definition to be channeling possible procreation into marriage; and then changed it again into discouraging irresponsible procreation, almost the opposite of his original contention]
Cooper next argued that this case should be subjected only to a rational basis standard. And because of this, he need not prove that the voters had any particular intention to discourage irresponsible procreation (or whatever his current purpose for marriage might be) but only that it is conceivable that they could have used this logic had they so wished. Not that they did, but that a rational person could.
This vein of questioning ended and Cooper clarified his request to have the 18,000 marriage invalidated. He’s said that if this caused irreconcilable differences, it would be better to toss out 18,000 marriages than to disregard the will of the voters. But otherwise, the defendants are fine with them continuing to be recognized as grandfathered-in.
The judge asked Cooper about whether gender (as opposed to incarceration, responsibility or ability to procreate) was the sole exception to marriage being a fundamental right. Cooper said that gender is the definitional feature of marriage.
The judge then asks if because Cooper claims that sexual orientation is only a social construct, then how it differs from gender. And the argument began it’s descent down the ex-gay path.
Cooper claimed that sexual orientation was not immutable and was not an “accident of birth”, i.e. no one is born gay. [I’ve long believed that the immutability of sexual orientation is the basis in which our eventual civil equality will be found.] They discussed how that while religion is not immutable, its rights are found in the First Amendment, not through heightened scrutiny.
Cooper insisted as “plainly right” that sexual orientation is not an immutable trait. He declared that 2/3rds of women change their orientation [a gross misstatement of the facts].
He further insisted that gays are not politically powerless. When the judge quoted a litany of discrimination, Cooper agreed that gays have been victims of discrimination, but insisted that history of discrimination is not by itself sufficient to warrant heightened judicial scrutiny.
The arguments took a veering to discuss whether Blankenhorn is a qualified witness. To support this, Cooper had nothing additional to add.
(to be continued… check back later)