Central Voice First Day Summary of Prop. 8 Court Challenge

At 9:08 a.m. Jan. 11, the first federal trial to determine if the US Constitution prohibits states from outlawing same-sex marriage started in US District Court, San Francisco.

Chief US District Judge Vaughn R. Walker asked attorney Theodore Olson, representing two same-sex couples suing to overturn Prop. 8, how the ban could be called discriminatory, since California already allows domestic partnerships. Olson drew comparisons to some state laws banning interracial marriage in the 1960s that would have banned President Barack Obama’s parents from getting married.

Charles Cooper, representing sponsors of the gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2008, said that it’s too difficult to know the impact of gay marriage on traditional marriage because the practice is still so new. He urged the court to take a wait-and-see approach.

Observers say that the historic case is likely to be appealed to the US Supreme Court, where the case could determine if gay Americans have the right to marry.

Reports are that about 100 people, mostly gay marriage supporters, demonstrated outside the federal courthouse. About a dozen foes stood nearby quietly with signs demanding the ban stay in place.

Two hours before trial was scheduled to start, the California high court blocked video posting of the proceedings on YouTube.com. Justices said they needed more time to review the request and may take until Wednesday or longer to decide.

Over the weekend, Prop. 8 sponsors sought to block YouTube broadcasts. Walker, who is overseeing the trial, had approved the plan last week, stating the case was appropriate for wide dissemination because it dealt with an issue of wide interest and importance.

Filed by Central Voice San Francisco Correspondent Michael Petrelis
8:13 p.m., Jan. 11, 2010

PDAs Galore: Prop 8 Trial BeginsToday was the start of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit challenging California’s Prop 8 initiative that bars same-sex couples from marrying, and I was there. Be sure to read other gay bloggers’ reports and the accounts from traditional media folks, for the legal details and maneuverings. My report of impressions and observations is presented as a personal record of a few things I saw, and what I felt today:

Million Dollar Smile
At the vigil and speak out organized by Marriage Equality USA, before court began, I saw my friend state Sen. Mark Leno, and his million dollar smile was as confident as ever. He had an attitude that other friends also possessed — confidence and cautious hope. The boldness of the lawsuit and its game-changing nature brought optimism to a lot of battle-weary gays in San Francisco today. I think there is tremendous unity to see the case deliver a sorely-needed win.

PDAs, Part 1
There was much disappointment over the Supreme Court’s decision against airing the proceedings on YouTube among the crowd of media folks and general public waiting outside courtroom 6 on the 17th floor, but it disappeared once we all got situated and large sections of the room were aglow from all the PDAs, personal digital assistants, laptops, and other electronic gadgets.

Judge Walker entered at 9:07 am, and history-making began. There’s a palpable beat of early-in-the-day eagerness, as so many observers are making notes on paper or a device. Through my opera glasses, I see that Walker is looking very dapper, sporting a great haircut, a burnt orange/red tie down the middle of his chest, nicely offset by crisp white shirt and rich black robe.

Lawyer v. Lawyer
Ted Olson launched into his opening statement at 9:26 am, and it hurt emotionally having to listen to his master arguer’s intonation as he recounts a small piece of the demonization and discrimination gay Americans have suffered. Sure, I’ve heard such words many times in my years, and it never gets easier swallowing our pain, but I am ready for a big unapologetic legal challenge made on gays’ behalf to end a huge part of the discrimination. Go, Ted, go!

Two words come to mind as opposing attorney Charles Cooper presents his opening arguments: hesitant speaker. Coming after the wonderful preparation, smoothness and expert delivery of Olson, Cooper was a letdown. Damn hard to sense much of his self-confidence. He also gets too jittery at the lectern. His central point is that marriage must and does equal procreation. Huh? That’s going to be his argument? We should easily win, if it is.

Whole Lotta People
I can’t recall what was under deliberation at 10:45 am, but I had to know how many people were present in the courtroom at that very moment. Standing up for a rapid scan, I counted everyone at the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ tables. Then tallied up all the other folks surrounding the tables, the judge’s staff, and the packed rows for the press and public. Total number of individuals at that time: 148.

Hollywood powerbroker and longtime friend of the gay community, Rob Reiner, occupied one of the seats reserved for plaintiffs’ side. He’ll always be Meathead from “All in the Family” to me, and he’ll always have my genuine thanks for all he’s done for gays and liberal causes in California over the decades. We gays could use a few more menschs like him at our side, as we battle for an end to anti-gay discrimination.

PDAs, Part 2
After a break, the first witness, plaintiff Jeff Zarrillo takes the stand. His voice is dry and cracks when he says the man he wants to marry is the love of his life. I want to cry for him. He shed a few tears and quickly wiped one away with his right hand, after getting anxious speaking about his relationship and life as a gay man.

David Boies is the consummate avuncular questioner, and even with his gentle prodding, I sense a foundation is being laid down to deal with the issue underlying the gay marriage question, the question of homosexuality itself, and that is what is really on trial here.

As Zarrillo approaches his row to return to his seat, his partner stands up, steps into the aisle, put his hands on the sides of Zarrillo, then smooches him on the lips, with his eyes open and full of love. This is the key moment, for me, summing up what is at stake here. It is the love and right to PDAs, public displays of affection, and lots of other public benefits and things, for gay Americans.

All of the plaintiffs won my full admiration and respect for their roles in this historic matter, and I feel they handled themselves with poise and pride. I can begin fathom all of the pressure they must be under, as key players in this drama.

Here they are opening up their private lives, all to benefit the entire gay community, and I can’t wait to hear more of their stories once the case is over. I thought the coolest and most assured plaintiff was Kris Perry, who lacked nervousness and defensiveness.

Perry also engaged in a public display of affection when she passed her partner in the aisle. Their kiss and quick embrace were another moment of pride. This was just a small moment in an enormous legal battle, but a telling one for me about the integrity and humanity of the heroes in court today. Despite all the legal and media pressure in the courtroom, these gay folks didn’t for one minute forget their love, or the need to show it.

Most Annoying Person of the Day Award
It comes as no surprise, but I’m giving this award to opposing attorney Charles Cooper. He worked my last nerve today with his irritating and at times impatient rocking in his plush leather chair, while the plaintiffs testified. Can’t the man control his restlessness and show some respect, not just for who is testifying, but for the dignity of the court and the importance of the full proceedings?

If Judge Walker had asked for public comment on courtroom behavior, I would have told him to instruct attorneys to keep their need-to-rock jitters in check.

One-Day Hiatus
I’m taking a break from the trial on Tuesday. The courtroom was incredibly stuffy and lacking in ventilation today, which may be why I’m a bit under the weather now.

Before I left court, I met up with Davina Kotulski. She is married to Molly McKay, and they’re both heavily involved with Marriage Equality USA. Kotulski has my media pass, which is transferable to colleagues, and she’ll be in the courtroom tomorrow, covering the trial for this blog.

I’m more than happy to share the good fortune of the court’s media pass with the good fighters, and fellow bloggers, from Marriage Equality USA.


2 Responses to “Central Voice First Day Summary of Prop. 8 Court Challenge”

  1. Zev Bek Says:

    I was hoping for a news story which this wasn’t.

    ALSO- the intro part NOT written by the “correspondent” states- “Two hours before trial was scheduled to start, the California high court blocked video posting of the proceedings on YouTube.com.”

    IF you read the other CV entry about the trial being televised, the “CA high court” had nothing to do with the decision to televise or not. THIS case is in a federal court- NOT a state court.

    I guess if I want to get facts- I’ll have to go to a news source.

    Otherwise- I DO enjoy checking out the site ~ Zev

    • centralvoice Says:

      Hi Zev,

      Thank you for your email, appreciated. Sorry you’re having trouble locating news stories. As I’m sitting here looking at the web site, I’m seeing the story referred to in my last email as the first sotry in the News window, the box in the center of the first page on the site. May I please suggest that you “refresh” our web site page as you use the site. This may be why you’re not finding stories since you’re viewing an old version of our first page.

      Yes, you are absolutely correct: our guy in SF did write that he was taking Tuesday off, later decided to cover some of the action anyway.

      Please let me know hoe else we may be able to assist.


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