Monday, January 11, 2010

PDAs Galore:
Prop 8 Trial Begins

Today was the start of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit challenging California's Prop 8 initiative that bars same-sex couples from marrying, and I was there. Be sure to read other gay bloggers' reports and the accounts from traditional media folks, for the legal details and maneuverings. My report of impressions and observations is presented as a personal record of a few things I saw, and what I felt today:

Million Dollar Smile

At the vigil and speak out organized by Marriage Equality USA, before court began, I saw my friend state Sen. Mark Leno, and his million dollar smile was as confident as ever. He had an attitude that other friends also possessed -- confidence and cautious hope. The boldness of the lawsuit and its game-changing nature brought optimism to a lot of battle-weary gays in San Francisco today. I think there is tremendous unity to see the case deliver a sorely-needed win.

PDAs, Part 1

There was much disappointment over the Supreme Court's decision against airing the proceedings on YouTube among the crowd of media folks and general public waiting outside courtroom 6 on the 17th floor, but it disappeared once we all got situated and large sections of the room were aglow from all the PDAs, personal digital assistants, laptops, and other electronic gadgets.

Judge Walker entered at 9:07 am, and history-making began. There's a palpable beat of early-in-the-day eagerness, as so many observers are making notes on paper or a device. Through my opera glasses, I see that Walker is looking very dapper, sporting a great haircut, a burnt orange/red tie down the middle of his chest, nicely offset by crisp white shirt and rich black robe.

Lawyer v. Lawyer

Ted Olson launched into his opening statement at 9:26 am, and it hurt emotionally having to listen to his master arguer's intonation as he recounts a small piece of the demonization and discrimination gay Americans have suffered. Sure, I've heard such words many times in my years, and it never gets easier swallowing our pain, but I am ready for a big unapologetic legal challenge made on gays' behalf to end a huge part of the discrimination. Go, Ted, go!

Two words come to mind as opposing attorney Charles Cooper presents his opening arguments: hesitant speaker. Coming after the wonderful preparation, smoothness and expert delivery of Olson, Cooper was a letdown. Damn hard to sense much of his self-confidence.He also gets too jittery at the lectern. His central point is that marriage must and does equal procreation. Huh? That's going to be his argument? We should easily win, if it is.

Whole Lotta People

I can't recall what was under deliberation at 10:45 am, but I had to know how many people were present in the courtroom at that very moment. Standing up for a rapid scan, I counted everyone at the plaintiffs' and defendants' tables. Then tallied up all the other folks surrounding the tables, the judge's staff, and the packed rows for the press and public. Total number of individuals at that time: 148.

Hollywood powerbroker and longtime friend of the gay community, Rob Reiner, occupied one of the seats reserved for plaintiffs' side. He'll always be Meathead from "All in the Family" to me, and he'll always have my genuine thanks for all he's done for gays and liberal causes in California over the decades. We gays could use a few more menschs like him at our side, as we battle for an end to anti-gay discrimination.

PDAs, Part 2

After a break, the first witness, plaintiff Jeff Zarrillo takes the stand. His voice is dry and cracks when he says the man he wants to marry is the love of his life. I want to cry for him. He shed a few tears and quickly wiped one away with his right hand, after getting anxious speaking about his relationship and life as a gay man.

David Boies is the consummate avuncular questioner, and even with his gentle prodding, I sense a foundation is being laid down to deal with the issue underlying the gay marriage question, the question of homosexuality itself, and that is what is really on trial here.

As Zarrillo approaches his row to return to his seat, his partner stands up, steps into the aisle, put his hands on the sides of Zarrillo, then smooches him on the lips, with his eyes open and full of love. This is the key moment, for me, summing up what is at stake here. It is the love and right to PDAs, public displays of affection, and lots of other public benefits and things, for gay Americans.

All of the plaintiffs won my full admiration and respect for their roles in this historic matter, and I feel they handled themselves with poise and pride. I can begin fathom all of the pressure they must be under, as key players in this drama.

Here they are opening up their private lives, all to benefit the entire gay community, and I can't wait to hear more of their stories once the case is over. I thought the coolest and most assured plaintiff was Kris Perry, who lacked nervousness and defensiveness.

Perry also engaged in a public display of affection when she passed her partner in the aisle. Their kiss and quick embrace were another moment of pride. This was just a small moment in an enormous legal battle, but a telling one for me about the integrity and humanity of the heroes in court today. Despite all the legal and media pressure in the courtroom, these gay folks didn't for one minute forget their love, or the need to show it.

Most Annoying Person of the Day Award

It comes as no surprise, but I'm giving this award to opposing attorney Charles Cooper. He worked my last nerve today with his irritating and at times impatient rocking in his plush leather chair, while the plaintiffs testified. Can't the man control his restlessness and show some respect, not just for who is testifying, but for the dignity of the court and the importance of the full proceedings?

If Judge Walker had asked for public comment on courtroom behavior, I would have told him to instruct attorneys to keep their need-to-rock jitters in check.

One-Day Hiatus

I'm taking a break from the trial on Tuesday. The courtroom was incredibly stuffy and lacking in ventilation today, which may be why I'm a bit under the weather now.

Before I left court, I met up with Davina Kotulski. She is married to Molly McKay, and they're both heavily involved with Marriage Equality USA. Kotulski has my media pass, which is transferable to colleagues, and she'll be in the courtroom tomorrow, covering the trial for this blog.

I'm more than happy to share the good fortune of the court's media pass with the good fighters, and fellow bloggers, from Marriage Equality USA.

UPDATE:

Check out my pics and short report from Tuesday's two pressers held by leading attorneys for each side.

2 comments:

Bill Wilson said...

Michael,
Sorry to hear your under the weather hope you are feeling better soon and back in the court room. I really appreciate your efforts and words that take us to history as it is being made.
I spent about an hour and a half on the Turk Street side of the court house because I figured people might not want to go through the gauntlet of Marriage Equality supporters on the Golden Gate side. It also helped that my husband was on the rally side so we had everything covered. Also I guess the Turk Street one was the only entrance with scanners and x-rays for boxes because there were alot of people arriving with numerous file boxes.
I had no idea who the players were for the Prop 8 side so I just took pictures of everyone coming in.
There was a television camera person from Channel 5 and eventually a cameraman from CNN, but otherwise the sidewalk was empty the security people far outnumbered us.
You know that I try to be a friendly person, so I would at least smile at the person I was taking a picture of or as they got too close for me to get a good shot I would put my camera down and say Thank you. Of all the people I took pictures of there was only one person who made no acknowledgment of my presence. He had gray hair and was wearing a green striped tie. Through the wonders of Google I found that the person was none other than Charles J. Cooper.
I guess he had to act afraid since his arguments for not allowing the trial to be broadcast are based on fear. What a waste of energy! I never thought a smile and the words, "Good Morning" could be weapons of liberation, but of course they always are.
Rob Reiner stopped and did an interview with CNN. I was very impressed. He said that this was the civil rights issue of our generation and until there were equal rights for all we have a group of people being treated as 2nd class citizens. Way to go Meathead!!:)

Take care and get well!!

Heather said...

Thanks for your post. Bloggers are doing an amazing job of covering the trial. Very very helpful to know what's going on in there despite the lack of cameras.