Marriage equality supporters were focused this week on the closing arguments in a case that could end California’s ban on same-sex marriage and similar bans throughout the country.
In the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, attorney Ted Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general for former President George W. Bush, was set to give his final arguments in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, after Blade deadline.
The legal challenge, pending before Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court of Northern California, aims to invalidate Proposition 8, a ballot initiative in 2008 that ended same-sex marriage in the Golden State.
In a conference call last week with reporters, Olson made the case for same-sex marriage in California. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has “declared again and again” that being able to choose the person one wants to marry “is a fundamental right in this country.”
“It is vital to the opportunity for people to be a part of communities, of neighborhoods — to be able to join together in a committed relationship and to bond with one another in a relationship sanctioned by the state,” he said.
Olson compared Prop 8 to state laws banning interracial marriage, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia, and said he was presenting the same arguments in the Perry case.
“The parents of our president of the United States would have committed a crime had they been married at the time our president was born,” Olson said.
Olson said Prop 8 is unconstitutional in part because the referendum created four separate classes of people in California with respect to marriage.
They are same-sex couples who married in California before Prop 8 passed and remain married; same-sex couples who cannot marry; same-sex couples who married in other jurisdictions and have full legal marriage rights in California; and opposite-sex couples whom Olson said can marry whomever those choose “even if they’re in prison, even if they’re child abusers, or even if they’re 90 years old.”
Olson litigated the case in partnership with David Boies, an attorney who’s also been involved in high-profile cases. The two men were on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore in 2000; Olson represented then-Republican presidential candidate Bush while Boies represented Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore.
Boies, who cross-examined defendant witnesses during the trial, said, “there isn’t any support” for the arguments advanced by proponents of Prop 8 during the trial.
Proponents of Prop 8, Boies said, presented several arguments that failed under examination, such as the purpose of marriage being procreation, that marriage has always been between one man and one woman, and that same-sex marriages could endanger opposite-sex marriages.
“None of the defendant witnesses supported those propositions, and, in fact, all of their witnesses who spoke on those issued ended up giving contrary testimony,” Boies said.
For example, he said, witnesses under examination acknowledged that procreation has never been a requirement for marriage and many societies in the past have allowed same-sex marriage, including for a time California after the state’s Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that same-sex nuptials were mandated under the state constitution.
“It was only the passage of Proposition 8 that took this right away from gay and lesbian couples even in California,” Boies said.
Additionally, Boies said defendants’ witnesses acknowledged on the stand that prohibiting LGBT couples from marrying “caused them serious damage, and caused the hundreds of thousands of children that those couples were raising serious damage.”
Boies also said defendants were unable to produce witnesses that could provide “a shred of evidence” that same-sex marriage endangers opposite-sex marriage.
“It’s a critically important case, but it’s one in which the facts really are not in dispute,” Boies said. “The other side doesn’t have a legal argument, they don’t have a factual argument — they got a circular bumper sticker for a case.”
Proponents of Prop 8 will also have an opportunity to offer remarks during closing arguments. Chuck Cooper, lead attorney for defendants, will represent those arguing for the court to uphold Prop 8.
In a statement, Jim Campbell, an attorney for Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal firm working on the case, said defendants would emphasize arguments they made throughout the trial.
“The team of attorneys defending Proposition 8 will highlight all the reasons why Proposition 8 is constitutional,” he said. “In doing so, they will emphasize the reasons why Proposition 8 is not only rational, but also why preserving marriage as one man and one woman is good social policy.”
Jennifer Pizer, marriage project director and senior counsel for Lambda Legal, predicated both sides in the Perry case would “survey the evidence” already presented during the trial.
She said Olson and Boies presented “a massive evidentiary record” before the court and expected them “to offer a structure for this mountain of relevant evidence that they have submitted.”
For proponents of Prop 8, Pizer said she expects attorneys to “make a mountain out of the barely noticeable molehill of evidence” that they’ve submitted.
She said much of the defendants’ evidence was submitted from individuals who weren’t qualified as experts, meaning they weren’t in court and qualified according to the rules and therefore not examined.
“The defendants offered into evidence a pile of articles without explanation of who the authors were or why any of their writings might be relevant to anything,” she said. “So I suspect that Chuck Cooper may refer to many of those documents as if they were relevant evidence, but they’re not.”
Pizer also predicted that the defendants would argue that the “anti-gay prejudice that infused and inspired the Prop 8 campaign” isn’t legally relevant to whether the initiative is constitutional. Still, Pizer said she believes this anti-gay bias was the sole purpose of Prop 8.
“The proponents of Prop 8 were inspired by anti-gay prejudice and they sent the voting public misinformation in a deliberate attempt to confuse and induce people to vote their prejudice into law — and they succeeded,” she said.
Pizer said Lambda was involved in the Perry case by filing two friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of the legal challenge to Prop 8 as well as providing resource assistance to plaintiffs in the case.
Earlier this month, Walker presented an 11-page list of questions he wanted attorneys on both sides of the case to answer during closing arguments. Among the topics for plaintiffs was a requested review of any empirical data showing that the availability of same-sex marriage reduces discrimination against LGBT people.
During the conference call, Olson said that such data can be found in the ballot label for Prop 8, which noted the measure “eliminates the rights for same-sex couples to marry.”
“You are not only stating that the state creates discrimination, but that the state sanctions discrimination — and sanctions the points of the attitudes — that bring about private discrimination,” Olson said. “It has always been the case that when the court eliminates state discrimination … that people open up and realize that what they’re doing themselves is not permissible.”
Another question was how the court could find Prop 8 unconstitutional without also invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Boies said the matter under consideration is different from DOMA because state law traditionally determines marriage in the United States, although some of the constitutional arguments against DOMA are similar to those against Prop 8.
“For all of the rights that are a matter of state law — which are the majority of rights that are involved — it is critical that people have the right to marry even if DOMA were to continue to exist,” Boies said.
Several observers following the case have predicted that Walker will rule in favor of plaintiffs, although how subsequent courts will rule on any appeal remains to be seen.
Pizer said she couldn’t predict how Walker will rule in the case, but noted that the questions he’s posed show a focus on “questions of causation.”
“He is focused on whether there are adequate government purposes and whether there’s a proper causal relationship between what Prop 8 actually does and goals that the state is actually permitted to have,” she said. “Advancing prejudice is never a proper government purpose.”
In response to a Blade inquiry on the timeline for the case, Olson said he expects a decision from Walker in the case within weeks of the closing arguments. The next step would be taking the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Olson said he hopes that Walker will find Prop 8 unconstitutional and allow LGBT people to start marrying in California immediately, but noted that if he withholds institution of that decision, plaintiffs hope the Ninth Circuit would hear the case “in a hurry.”
“That’s probably a process that would take perhaps a year, although we moved through this case fairly rapidly so far,” Olson said.
The case could then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Olson said following the appeals court ruling, it would take six to eight months to get the case on the docket for the high court.
But Pizer said it’s difficult to determine how long the case would remain in the Ninth Circuit because it could first go before a three-judge panel — and then advance to an 11-judge panel.
“That’s a long way of saying it’s impossible to tell how long it would be between now and the Supreme Court,” she said. “It might be two years or three years. Anybody who gives you a prediction is making a guess.”
Asked whether the Supreme Court would examine only the constitutionality of Prop 8 or the validity of same-sex marriage bans throughout the country, Olson said the scope of the examination would be up to the Supreme Court.
“It will also be a part and a function of what the district court and the Ninth Circuit of Appeals decides, and who’s the party bringing the case to the Supreme Court, but I think that the court will have a menu of opportunities,” he said.
Olson said it’s possible the Supreme Court would only examine the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban in California because Prop 8 is “particularly egregious.”
He noted that California was the only state to allow same-sex couples to marry and then eliminate that right — and the only state to create four sets of classes of couples.
Still, Olson said “at the base” of the Perry case is the fundamental right to marry, which would apply to same-sex marriage bans throughout the country.
“I think there will be a great temptation once it gets to the Supreme Court for the justices to say, ‘This case can come back to us in various forms; we should look at the fundamental rights and decide the rights of these Americans now once and for all,’” Olson said. “We hope that that would be the case.”