Eighteen months ago, the gay and lesbian equality movement won the war. It happened in U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker's San Francisco courtroom. It was called Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which resulted in a ruling overturning Prop 8. The evidence in that trial made crystal clear that gays and lesbians are denied full equality because of historic prejudice and fear. There is no other reason, but the problem is only 0.000001 percent of Americans actually got to see it.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an injunction banning televising or live-streaming the hearing, so I live-blogged the entire trial. It was gut-wrenching and cathartic to watch, but write as mightily as I and others did, only seeing the witnesses, the cross-examination and the facial expressions conveys the essence of that historic event.
The trial was captured on video. Courage created high-profile reenactments, which are a part of the plaintiff's pleadings on Monday, but the proponents of Prop. 8, the folks at Protect Marriage.com who spent $40 million on the Prop 8 campaign reinforcing negative stereotypes and dehumanizing gays and lesbians, want that video record buried forever. And no wonder: their tactics and arguments were laid bare; their legal strategy shown for the sham that it was.
On Monday, this all could change. U.S. Northern California District Court Chief Judge James Ware will hear a motion to make public the video recordings from that historic trial. The handful of us who actually saw the trial last year understand the power of the world-class scholars who testified to the history of legalized discrimination that caused gays and lesbians to lose jobs, careers, families and in more cases than not, lives. We also saw the stories of the plaintiffs, ordinary Americans who raise and are families in fact, but not according to law. How can we forget the embarrassing two witnesses from Protect Marriage, one of whom testified under oath that marriage equality would be good for America? Yep, that was their star witness.
The trial was actually not about Prop 8 alone. It put homosexuality and America on trial and that's precisely why the Prop 8 folks kept hiding everywhere they could.
During the trial, they sought to prevent having their own ads played and entered into evidence. They struggled to keep emails sent to dozens or hundreds of people during the campaign "secret" because the documents showed that their strategy was to vilify gay people.
Though they lost in court, they want to assure that all of the evidence is as hard to find as possible so that they can continue to use the same tactics to manipulate the media and public.
Even now, the same folks who brought us Prop. 8 are fanning the flames of prejudice by seeking another ballot fight, this one designed to overturn the FAIR Education Act, a new California law that merely includes the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and movements into public school social studies courses. These strands of our history would stand next to those of other movements and civil rights battles, other heroes and leaders, whether Latino, African American, women or disabled.
Once again, the opponents of an inclusive America shout from the tree tops that children will be harmed if they know that say Bayard Rustin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's chief strategist and right-hand man, was gay. And that he suffered indignities because he was gay. Instead, the folks who brought us Prop. 8 will say, as Protect Marriage's Dr. Tam said at the trial, that gay people are deranged pedophiles, that if children know about "gay," they'll somehow catch it, as if it's a disease.
The trial dismissed these attacks as hurtful lies. And for the first time in our history, a federal court was able to find as fact that homosexuality is not a choice, which means neither children nor anyone else can "catch the gay" anymore than they can choose to be Beethoven.
Judge Ware has the opportunity to let Americans learn for themselves by seeing the trial video transcript. They can see what I saw, that there is no case for keeping gay and lesbians as second-class citizens. They'll hear the witness for ProtectMarriage.com testify under oath that the children of gay and lesbian parents would be better off if their parents could marry. They'll see that as recently as when Dwight Eisenhower was President, our nation prohibited gays and lesbians from working for the U.S. government, a stigma only reversed fully with the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' next month.
This was the most important civil rights trial of our generation. It will affect millions of Americans, straight and LGBT. It will show parents why Americans 30 and under overwhelmingly support full equality because younger people are not burdened by the stigmas and artificial barriers erected to make gay people "other."
By releasing the video of the trial, Judge Ware will take a mighty step toward healing and unifying this nation. As chiseled in the library at my alma mater, Georgetown University, so should the judge rule, "Knowledge is truth and the truth shall set you free."
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