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2009-03-06

California State Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Gay Marriage Ban

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Supporters of gay marriage have asked the California State Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8 that amended California’s constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman. We speak to California State Assembly member Tom Ammiano joins us in San Francisco, a longtime gay rights activist who attended Thursday’s court hearing. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In California, supporters of gay marriage asked the State Supreme Court Thursday to overturn Proposition 8, that amended California’s constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman.

Last year, the court declared the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports the court appears ready to uphold the voters’ decision to overrule the court and restore the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

During a three-hour hearing, advocates of gay marriage questioned the constitutionality of the amendment, while supporters of the ban argued that the court has no authority to overturn the wishes of the state’s voters.

This is attorney Raymond Marshall of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, followed by former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who was representing backers of the ban on same-sex marriage.

    RAYMOND MARSHALL: What Proposition 8 does and what amici contend is that this is a case, which, for the first time, a ballot initiative has been used to take away a fundamental right from a suspect class.

    KENNETH STARR: We have heard an enormous amount, by very able counsel, about individual rights and suspect classifications. Those are very important topics. What we did not hear a lot from the other side is this inalienable right of the people of California, whether wisely or no, to change the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: California State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano joins us now from San Francisco, longtime gay rights activist. He attended the court hearing on Thursday.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Assemblymember Ammiano. Talk about the significance of these hearings, what you felt was most important.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER TOM AMMIANO: Well, you know, for me, sitting through this process with an activist background, it was very difficult to not speak out or yell out, because when Starr was up there, this reminded me of how the Jewish people went to the courts during the Nazi regime hoping for relief. It’s very bittersweet that, you know, my side, the anti-Prop 8 side, they were so articulate and so impassioned, and, you know, any reasonable person, I think, could deduct what the right thing to do was, but then when you hear someone like Kenneth Starr, very, very moralistic, toying with words and with concepts and saying, “What you have now is enough,” and being so duplicitous — and unfortunately, many of the justices seem to buy into that, particularly one of the women justices who actually voted with us a year ago, being so defensive and so cloying, interrupting many of the opponents of Prop 8 with somewhat sarcastic remarks. It was very, very distressing.

The other part of it is, I think we all have to take responsibility, and the Prop 8 campaigned, in and of itself, made up of many good people, just dropped the ball. And so, one of the lawyers for our side said, “Don’t make this public, but, you know, could you please make sure, if we have to go back to the ballot, that the same mistakes are not made?” And I heard that loud and clear. Monday morning quarterbacking, you know, had we done more outreach, particularly to communities of color, had we personalized it more — I was around for Prop 6, when Harvey Milk was alive, and he actually debated, and there was a face put on the people who were going to be subject to being fired if they were teachers. I was one of them. It just seemed the campaign seemed to have more pith, where Prop 8, while it did accomplish many good things, also was — had a large deficit in outreach and really directing that $40 million, was raised against Prop 8. And it still, you know, missed the prize by, you know, an agonizing four points, which I understand today would not happen, that there’s been a lot —- the defeat actually of our side actually educated a lot of people, and now they’re saying they would vote against it, even though they voted for it at that time. So -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when will the court actually make its decision?

ASSEMBLYMEMBER TOM AMMIANO: They have ninety days. You could walk out of that courtroom yesterday and think they’ve already made that decision. However, you know, there’s always a chance. There’s always hope. There’s always the feeling that particularly that one justice, Kennard, was kind of grandstanding, playing to the house to show how she wasn’t going to be bought out by a motion, etc., and so forth, and she could be doing that for show.

But actually going through it and then going downstairs, it was very ugly outside. You know, I’m used to all kinds of “Homosexuals are perverts!” and “You’re going to burn in hell!” But there seemed to be a larger number this time, and they were unruly, and they had signs like “Dan White is a hero.” And when we got up to speak to the crowd, they tried to shout us down. You know, they can’t shut up a big queen. That’s what I said to them. But it was very unsettling. And they had their children there with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Ammiano, before we leave, you have also introduced a bill to legalize marijuana —-

ASSEMBLYMEMBER TOM AMMIANO: Yes, yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —- in California, as a means to raise revenue. California could go bankrupt. Talk about this bill.

ASSEMBLYMEMBER TOM AMMIANO: Yeah, I’m very excited by it. It’s an idea that’s been around — John Vasconcellos in 2004 —- but it’s never been introduced for the possibility of legislation. It would decriminalize marijuana, regulate it and then tax it. There’s a $14 billion marijuana industry that’s no longer your, you know, avuncular hippy in Humboldt County, but large cartels in state parks, you know, shooting and killing by happenstance, you know, hikers who come upon their fortified plantations. Our Board of Equalization, which is our taxing body, estimates $1 billion could go into California’s economy, to our coffers. I just went through a brutal budget situation where we had to hold our nose and vote for all kinds of horrible things. California really is on the brink of economic destruction. And it seems so hypocritical. The war on drugs has failed. This industry is operating under everyone’s nose, you know, not to not only capture the income, but also the ability to make a good public policy call here. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: State Assemblyman Ammiano, I want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow the State Supreme Court case. A couple days ago, thousands marched to lift the ban on same-sex marriage, and the hearings yesterday were watched on Jumbotrons around San Francisco. We’ll go out with the words of Sean Penn, when he won the Oscar Award, talking about, of course, Harvey Milk. He starred in Milk.

    SEAN PENN: For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: The music, “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor. We played for our TV audience photographs. The Courage Campaign asked its members to send in photographs of themselves with signs that read, “Please don’t divorce us” or “please don’t divorce our friends/co-workers.” They were inundated with over 1,500 photos. The video has been viewed more than a million times, making it the most-watched video of its kind in California history. You can watch some of it right here at democracynow.org.

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