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January 25, 2010

Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 10

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BLEND EXCLUSIVE: Trial analysis by the National Center For Lesbian Rights‘ (NCLR’s) Shannon Minter.


Photo of NCLR's Legal Director Shannon MinterToday was another exciting day as the Prop 8 trial heads into the home stretch.  The plaintiffs finished their case today, and defendants got started with their first witness, Professor Kenneth Miller.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys closed their case by playing excerpts from two simulcasts that were broadcast to gatherings of evangelical voters during the Prop 8 campaign. These simulcasts were sponsored and paid for by ProtectMarriage.com, the official Yes on 8 campaign organization.  In the portions shown, one speaker said, “The polygamists are waiting in the wings, because if a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman, the polygamists are going to use that exact same argument and they probably are going to win.”  Another speaker referred to a man marrying a horse, and a third speaker compared the impact of permitting same-sex couples to marry to the 9/11 attacks.  

The videos of these outrageous statements, made in a forum sponsored and paid for by the official Yes on 8 campaign, provided a fitting end to the plaintiffs’ case.   It brought the focus back to the long history of demonization the LGBT community has faced in the public sphere– from the grim historical events described in Professor George Chauncey’s testimony two weeks ago to the themes of the Yes on 8 campaign, as shown in today’s videos and the highly inflammatory testimony of Prop 8 proponent Dr. Bill Tam.  The plaintiffs have done an admirable job of laying out the case that Prop 8 was a product of the same kind of prejudice that has driven many other anti-gay laws throughout our nation’s history.

After the plaintiffs rested their case, the Prop 8 proponents called their first witness, Prof. Kenneth Miller, who is a professor in the Department of Government at Claremont McKenna College.  He was offered as an expert on the political power of gay men and lesbians in California and nationally.  Prof. Miller defined political power as the ability to get the attention of lawmakers.  In support of his conclusion that gay men and lesbians have significant power, he cited the support for LGBT causes in California among allies such as the Democratic Party and organized labor, the number of LGBT elected officials in California, and the number of LGBT-friendly laws that have been passed by the California legislature in recent years.  

This simplistic analysis contrasted sharply with the nuanced approach adopted by the plaintiffs’ expert, Professor Gary Segura, in his testimony last week.  Prof. Segura emphasized that to understand a group’s political power, one has to consider not only the number of legislative victories or the number of elected officials, but also the broader context-including factors such as the incidence of anti-gay hate violence, the number of initiatives attacking the civil rights of gay people and our persistent inability to defend ourselves against them, and the long history of government-sponsored discrimination against gay people in employment, which continues to the present day in the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers. This rigorous attention to detail was notably lacking from Prof. Miller’s testimony.  

In fact, under Prof. Miller’s definition of power as the ability to attract any favorable legislative attention, it’s hard to think of any group that would not qualify as politically powerful.  Certainly, neither race nor gender would be a suspect classification under the Constitution, since many federal and state laws prohibited discrimination on those bases before  the United States Supreme Court held that women and racial minorities were sufficiently politically powerless to merit constitutional protection.  In contrast, we still do not have a single federal law that prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, and, most states still permit employers to fire workers because of their sexual orientation.  If Prof. Miller’s analysis were correct, no type of discrimination would be subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny.              

In addition to offering a surprisingly superficial account of political power, Prof. Miller made several admissions that undermined his credibility as an expert.  Under a withering cross-examination by David Boies, Prof. Miller admitted that, at the time of his deposition, he did not know how many states prohibited sexual orientation discrimination.  He did not recognize many of the leading scholars on gay politics and history, and acknowledged that he had not read their work.  He could not offer an opinion on whether gay people have more political power than African-Americans, even though much more of his scholarship has dealt with the African-American community than the LGBT community.  He also declined to comment on the level of prejudice and negative stereotyping LGBT people face compared to other groups such as African-Americans or women.  Prof. Miller did concede that lesbians must face more prejudice than other women, however, because they experience discrimination on the basis of both gender and sexual orientation.  

Boies also questioned Prof. Miller at length about articles Prof. Miller has authored or coauthored that are critical of the initiative process.  In fact, at times, it almost seemed that Prof. Miller might have been offered as an expert by the plaintiffs on the dangers of the initiative process.   For example, Prof. Miller has written that initiatives violate the democratic norms of openness, fairness, and accountability and tend to preclude compromise and informed deliberation.  When asked if he still agreed with those statements, Prof. Miller agreed that he did.  He also acknowledged that initiatives are particularly troubling when they target disfavored minorities.  

Tomorrow, Boies will continue his cross-examination of Prof. Miller in the morning, and the proponents then intend to call their final expert, David Blankenhorn, who is expected to testify about parenting by gay men and lesbians.    

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Related:

* Visit the Blend for exclusive legal analysis of Federal Prop 8 trial by NCLR

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 1

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 2

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 3

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 4

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 5

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 6

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 7

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 8

* Shannon Minter: Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proceedings, Day 9

* Key commentary from the PHB Shannon Minter live blog on the fed Prop 8 trial


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