There’s no shortage of disagreement concerning the California marriage amendment trial. But one point is beyond dispute: it is costing a fortune. While the gallery of observers continues to dwindle (it’s now about half full), the room has remained flush with busy lawyers. On a typical day there are 10-12 on each side, many of whom are senior partners at major law firms. Of course, on our side that counts the state’s official “defenders” of the amendment-lawyers for Gov. Schwarzenegger and the attorney general-who have taken neutral and adverse positions, respectively, and are certainly doing nothing to help defend this portion of their own state constitution. Even considering their non-participation, the legal octane in the room is undeniably high.
That has made for a very thorough examination of the issues thus far. A side issue that has been all-too-thoroughly examined-cameras in the courtroom-was finally laid to rest Thursday after Judge Walker announced that he would not broadcast the proceeding in any form. This came on the heels of Wednesday’s 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court that criticized the process used to change the court’s rules to allow cameras in the first place. The Supreme Court also recognized the special dangers of allowing broadcast in this case because of the voter intimidation surrounding Proposition 8.
After that announcement from the court, the plaintiffs put on their next two experts, who spoke for the rest of the day. The first was an economist who works for the City of San Francisco, Dr. Edmund Egan. He testified about how much money the marriage amendment will cost the City of San Francisco. He said that redefining would increase the number of “married” couples in San Francisco, who would accumulate more wealth and create higher spending on consumer goods (thus generating more sales tax revenue). This would also bid up real estate values, he argued, which would increase property tax receipts for the city.
Dr. Egan spoke for several hours, but the avalanche of words left little substance. I was struck by two thoughts. First, as I looked around the courtroom to see several San Francisco city attorneys, I wondered how much this and all the other marriage cases San Francisco has filed in the last five years were costing the city. Even if we assumed Dr. Egan’s theories were true (a huge assumption), I bet the marginal uptick in same-sex “wedding” revenue would pale compared to the city’s legal bills. Second, Dr. Egan’s theory could be applied to any type of marriage redefinition, like polygamy or polyamory. If the city could only follow the advice of its historian expert, Dr. Nancy Cott, it would allow marriage “in all its forms” and make a mint. But something tells me they won’t be advocating that theory…yet.
Next on the stand was Dr. Meyer, who testified about how the marriage amendment stigmatizes people who engage in homosexual behavior. He spoke at length about how same-sex couples feel when they get funny looks from hotel clerks or passersby on the street, and how the negative attitudes about homosexual behavior impact their well-being. The theory seems to be that if California redefines marriage, society will be more accepting of their relationships, and thus their stress level will decrease. On cross-examination, Dr. Egan admitted that his studies are contrary to other leading studies. It also became evident that his theories, even if true, were not very well connected to the marriage amendment.
Friday we start with yet another expert and then round off the day with a local Asian-American activist. If time permits, the plaintiffs will also question Dr. Bill Tam, who was a supporter of Proposition 8 in the Asian community.