April 18, 2011 - 12:34 pm

"People in an open society do not demand infallibility in their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing" - Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 1980

Former U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who presided over the trial on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage, recently used some of the video that was taken during the case as part of a lecture. The proponents, a.k.a. supporters of Prop 8/opponents of gay marriage, immediately took great offense and sent what was essentially a cease and desist order that demanded the return of all the copies of the tapes, Walker's and anyone else who had them.

In response, Ted Olson and David Boies, the legal tour de force trying to lift the gay marriage ban, filed a request that the tapes be unsealed and released to the public.  After all, the trial is a matter of public record and the transcripts are freely available.

Originally, the trial was going to be broadcast live, but the proponents felt like this might scare some of their witnesses away, and so they demanded that it not be broadcast.  Judge Walker taped it, but didn't release the tapes, to the great disappointment of the men and women across the country who wanted to see the greatest trial of the greatest civil rights battle of our time.

No one can really blame the proponents for not wanting to have video footage of just how appallingly awful their defense of Prop 8 was. They want to continue to play the victim here -- they want to sell the idea that gay marriage is somehow a violation of religious liberty, rather than being completely the other way round. The video of their disastrous performance would only reveal that they are driven solely by religion and bigotry -- and that they aren't even capable of hiding that fact.

Some things that they don't want you to see on television, things that their own anti-equality witnesses did: a witness saying that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act were "official discrimination"; that same witness then saying Prop 8 was also discriminatory; Mr. Blankenhorn, their chief witness saying, "I believe that adoption of same sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children"; Blankenhorn also saying, "We would be more American on the day we legalized gay marriage than the day before".

Well, I mean, no wonder, right?  But that's exactly why these things need to be released. People need the opportunity to see how feeble the defense was and to really understand how motivated by religion the campaign against equality was.  Not everyone is as nerdy as me and reads trial transcripts because they find them so compelling -- video is the medium of our lives, and well do the religious know that since it is the medium through which they sold their hate.

Much of the money and on-the-ground support for the Prop 8 campaign came from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon church) and was supplemented by the Catholic Church.  This isn't even money from California, and it's certainly money that ought to take away their tax-exempt status.  People need to be shown the kind of lies they were telling to get people to vote against marriage equality, the emotional manipulation about children and families, things so blatantly false they might be defended with the disclaimer: "not intended to be a factual statement."

Gay marriage doesn't destroy families, it doesn't destroy children, it really doesn't do much except make some people very happy and give them access to rights that the rest of us take for granted.  The trial provided an overwhelming amount of evidence that refusing marriage rights not only hurt gay people, but also hurt the thousands of children of LGBT parents.  It hurts these children irreparably, immeasurably, forever.  This wasn't in question, gay marriage opponents agreed.

These tapes shouldn't just be released, they should be broadcast on every news channel for weeks to expose just how rotten the argument is against gay marriage.  If you've ever questioned why church-state separation is so important, this is why.  If conservative Christians (and I include the LDS) hadn't funded the gay marriage ban, it wouldn't be in place, and even they couldn't create enough money to make credible witnesses or a real argument against gay marriage.  The monstrous unfairness of the church taking over, infiltrating, and outright buying the political process only to then lie to the public to get their way has got to stop.  Not only is it immoral, it is un-American.

More information:

Proponents motion for return of videos
Vaughn Walker's response
Olson and Boies request for unsealing of videos
San Francisco's feisty response
Trial Re-enactments

March 14, 2011 - 12:04 pm

What would you do if your child was forced to attend religious ceremonies against his will by his public high school? Maybe your gut impulse would be to sue the school, especially if it continued after you asked it to stop. But would you be willing to ostracize your child and force school districts that are already struggling financially to spend time and money on legal fees to defend themselves?

These questions were all recently put to me and at a local Americans United for the Separation of Church and State meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, by a lawyer who has a child in a South Carolina public school.  She is a non-believer and the band teacher is a Christian who has, reportedly, driven students out of the band before because of his focus on his religion. Though a non-believer, she tries to be laid back about what she protests, it's not worth it to her, for example, to question the mandatory moment of silence the school district enforces, a policy in violation of the First Amendment according to a Supreme Court decision, or to protest the prevalence of Christian music the band is asked to play.

But this Christmas, the band was asked to play, for a grade, a performance at a Methodist church where the band teacher and minister led the band in five or six Christian prayers and it was, in essence, a church service.  The mom attended this and, with rising anger, was asked repeatedly to stand up, sit down, and praise the Lord.  She contacted the band teacher, who saw no issue with the performance, and she contacted the principal of the school, who hasn't gotten back to her.  And so, she put this question to the group, what was she supposed to do?

I can't say I have a good answer, there's a limit to how much you can do without really drawing attention to yourself and potentially making life difficult for your child.  For her to have legal standing, her child would still have to be in school when she brought her case, and she doesn't want to do that to him.  Admittedly, life in the South is more fraught with these difficulties than in other parts of the country. When I was in school I had to listen to the principal tell us to "have a blessed day" every day over the morning announcements. Such a large percentage of the population is Christian, and openly hostile to other religions, that it makes your life very tough if you stand up for your (non)beliefs.

Not everyone is Madalyn Murray O'Hair, not everyone wants to define their life by standing up for a cause, we've all got other things we want to do with our time.  Unfortunately, that means that a lot of stuff like this goes uncommented upon, unprotested, and uncorrected. SCA and a lot of other groups are working to help, but things like this are far too common, and I know that so many people aren't telling their stories for fear of being ostracized, I can only hope that it will get easier and that advocacy will make a difference.