Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, is back in the spotlight after last year’s raging battle over the majority vote. The constitutionality of Prop 8 is now under question in the San Francisco district court of appeals after a lawsuit was filed in June by two gay couples. Prior to the trial, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who is overseeing the case, said he would allow video cameras inside of the courtroom. The video would have then been posted on YouTube daily, a few hours after the day’s proceedings.
Judge Walker’s decision however, was overturned last week by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote. The majority, in an unsigned Supreme Court document, cited procedural mistakes in how the ruling to tape and broadcast was reached. This, along with concerns about the harassment of witnesses and chilling affects on testimonies, led to the decision, the document stated.
This decision is wrong for quite a few reasons. First of all, the trial is already public. If someone is in San Francisco they can squeeze their way into the courtroom to see the case unfold. Tens, if not hundreds, of national and international news organizations are covering the trial as well. Witness names will be published and if harassment is going to happen, it would not be because of a broadcast of the trial. Many of these witnesses were already vocal and public about their support or dissent of the issue in last year’s campaign; they were already in public view.
The second reason is transparency. A topic as controversial and divisive as gay marriage deserves to be seen, in full, by the public. This allows each person to make their own decisions about the topic prior to the interruption of outside voices and opinions. If a witness uses a derogatory term or slings accusations without reason, the public should be able to interpret that action in the way they see fit. Without the broadcast, most interested people will be forced to make their decisions and judgments through reporters’ observations.
This transparency would give the trial an even higher profile than it already has. Judging by reactions, comments and debates, this issue will not be leaving the spotlight anytime soon. Whatever decision Walker makes, the case will inevitably make it to the Supreme Court. The decision made there will define gay marriage and its status across the nation, probably for quite a while. The decision should be the right one, with the most input from the public, in the most informed way. If this doesn’t happen, we run the risk of having a decision in place that does not reflect the rights that all Americans are due.
Some critics, according to an LA Times article, say that the intervention of the Supreme Court before the trial even began is a “bad omen” for gay marriage proponents as it moves through the American court system. The position that this decision is a bad omen is certainly justified. Standing alone, the fact that the majority of Supreme Court Justices want less public spotlight on the trial is a sign that they are trying to put out brush fires before the firestorm reaches their level. The Supreme Court rarely intervenes in district courts, according to the Times.
“The majority has a distinct sympathy for the foes of same-sex marriage,” the article said. “The justices cited a series of newspaper stories reporting on the threats and harassment faced by those who have publicly opposed gay unions.”
This take has led some proponents of gay marriage to ask, is the time too soon to bring the debate over gay marriage to an official, national level? From their viewpoint, it may be, but it doesn’t look like this snowball is going to slow down.
Whether or not the decision comes sooner or later, broadcasting the trial would have opened up a more honest discussion of the topic. Arguments would be more sound, discussions would be more layered and therefore, the decision reached would be more thorough and educated. That much, at least, is owed to a topic that is so contentious, so visible and that is, and will continue to be, so important to the American people.