Prop 8 trial, Day 4: Testimony on language, gay stereotypes, economic impact

by Roger Brigham

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday January 14, 2010

The language used by Proposition 8 proponents ahead of the Nov. 2008 vote and by their attorneys in the early days of the federal trial provided an indication of the parameters they are expected to use when they begin their defense late next week.

In terminology repeated in almost every phase of the trial so far, Prop 8 supporters have referred to homosexuality as a "lifestyle" rather than a core identity, that gays are sexual predators whose reputation legitimizes fears and past increases of gay rights outweigh any need for full marital integration.

Expert witnesses for the legal team seeking to overturn the referendum talked about "identity" or "orientation." Attorneys who questioned them on cross examination have changed that to "choice" or "lifestyle."

"It's interesting that the proponents consistently refer to an individual's 'lifestyle,'" Shannon Minter, an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights who is attending the trial, told EDGE. "They seem to consistently be suggesting that being gay is a choice, that it's not a legitimate identity and it's okay for the government to be prejudiced against being gay."

Chad Griffin, president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization that continues to bankroll the Prop 8 challenge, said he felt the language used by proponents' attorneys was an attempt to "insinuate that it [being gay or lesbian] is a choice."

"I think our witnesses and the cross examination of their so-called witnesses will make it clear what the truth is," he said.

The Rev. Hak-Shing William Tam, one of the leaders of ProtectMarriage.com, said in his deposition shown in court that a "gay agenda" would follow-up marriage for same-sex couples with a push to legalize pedophilia.

Minter said the dialogue promoted "the most vicious stereotypes that gay people are dangerous sexual predators."

"That's extremely offensive," he said.

Griffin compared Yes on 8's messaging to Anita Bryant's "Save the Children" campaign from the 1970s.

"They're no different," he said of Tam and his ProtectMarriage.com colleagues. "Perhaps they attempted to be more diplomatic, but it's no different."

Proponent attorney Andrew Pugno told reporters yesterday "the people of California are very tolerant and accepting, but they draw the line at marriage."

"That sends send a message that the law does not have to treat people equally; that they are not entitled to full citizenship," Minter countered.

The direct examination of Edmund Egan, chief economist for the City and County of San Francisco, led of today's testimony. Proposition 8 opponents called him to the stand to discuss financial analyses of the referendum's impact on San Francisco to demonstrate a compelling government interest in marriage for same-sex couples. Lian H. Meyer professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, followed him. And he testified about negative effects on the mental health of the LGBT population related to Prop 8 and other prejudicial conditions.

During a break in Egan's cross-examination, Judge Vaughn R. Walker dismissed a written request from Prop 8 proponent attorney Charles Cooper to cease video recording of the trial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court order that the tapes could not be made for the purpose of wide public dissemination.

"The order permits recording for the purposes of use in chambers," Walker said. "I think it would be quite helpful to me to have the recording in forming my opinion."

Egan further testified he had studied ways Prop 8 negatively effected San Francisco's economy and ways in which marriage for gays and lesbians would provide a financial boon. He said studies had shown married individuals tend to accumulate more wealth than unmarried individuals and this additional money led to increased income tax revenues, individual spending and sales tax revenue and indirectly increased real estate values.

Other potential benefits would be less public spending on health care for people in a relationship who did not have spousal health coverage, decreased spending on hate crimes due to higher social acceptance and lower school absences caused by homophobic bullying, thereby attendance-based federal school funding.

Meyer told the court Prop 8 imposed a stigma on gays and lesbians by telling them they were not entitled to something the majority of the population as a "normal" goal: marriage. He said he doubted society values the term "domestic partner."

"I don't know if it has any social meaning," Meyer said. "II think it is clear that young children do not aspire to become domestic partners. But they may desire to become married."

Meyers said LGBT individuals may suffer stress from "prejudiced events." These include the angst engendered when a partnered but unmarried person is given the choice of "single" or "married" in a job application; expectation of discrimination or rejection, hiding identity and internalized homophobia. Under direct examination he connected each of those to issues the two couples who filed the lawsuit -- Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo -- raised in their opening statements.

"There may be nothing wrong with filling out a form," Meyers said. "It's what the form represents that is the stress. Marital status would be an example. There's no place for me to check. I will put down 'single' even though I've been in a relationship for 40 years because I just don't want to get into it with the clerk. It's not so much what happens, but what it means to you as a gay person. When you have to explain why you are not married, you have to say it is because you are not considered equal."

Meyers added the perceived need to remain closeted or guarded about their sexual orientation was especially stressful for many.

"Concealing prevents you from expressing emotion, expressing something about yourself," he said. That's been found to be a very healthy thing to do, especially with something that is perceived as such a core thing of who you are."

The trial continues Friday with testimony from lesbian author Helen Zia.

Roger Brigham, a freelance writer and communications consultant, is the San Francisco Editor of EDGE. He lives in Oakland with his husband, Eduardo.