Thursday, June 17, 2010

Closing Arguments in Prop 8 Trial

Nearly six months after the trial started, both sides presented their closing arguments in the federal lawsuit in California against Prop 8, the state constitutional amendment that withdrew the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Vaughn R. Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, repeatedly questioned lawyers defending the measure — Proposition 8, passed by California voters in 2008 — over their position that marriage is, simply put, for making babies.

“The marital relationship is fundamental to the existence and survival of the race,” said the defense’s leading lawyer, Charles J. Cooper. “Without the marital relationship, your honor, society would come to an end.”

But Judge Walker, who will decide the case, dogged Mr. Cooper for hard evidence of that claim, noting that there are no rules prohibiting marriage between people who cannot have children.

Over the course of several hours, Judge Walker also sharply questioned the qualifications of one of Mr. Cooper’s witnesses and his assertion that marriage “serves a societal purpose that is equally ubiquitous.”

At one point, Judge Walker wondered at Mr. Cooper’s logic. “Do people get married to benefit the community?” he asked. “When one enters into a marriage, you don’t say, ‘Oh boy, I’m going to benefit society!’ ”

Judge Walker didn’t let the plaintiffs off easily, either.

Judge Walker also asked why Californians were not allowed to define marriage as between a man and a woman, as Proposition 8 did.

Mr. Olson stuttered a little before responding that Californians could define their own rules, “unless they are taking away a fundamental right.”

Judge Walker also asked why the state’s domestic partnership law, which affords most of the same rights as marriage, was not “sufficient accommodation” for the rights of gay people. Mr. Olson countered that marriage was a unique institution and more significant than domestic partnerships.

“It means something completely different,” Mr. Olson said.

No matter who wins this case, it’s going to go all the way to the Supreme Court.