But Prop 8 really is The Los Angeles Times’s baby. The paper has covered the issue extensively and well, and its reporting on yesterday’s decision was no exception. Not needing to venture as deep into the Prop 8 history or to provide as much context around the decision as other non-local reports, Maura Dolan and Carol J. Williams’s front-page story, “Ruling against Prop. 8 could lead to federal precedent on gay marriage,” is a forward-looking piece (and, on balance, a pro-gay marriage read, labeling the case “lopsided” in favor of the plaintiffs and exuding a somewhat exuberant tone). The reporters focus tightly on the decision, lifting heavily from Walker’s 136-page ruling, and emphasizing that it was “the first in the country to strike down a marriage ban on federal constitutional grounds.” They then set their eyes firmly on what’s next for Prop 8.
At least some legal experts said his lengthy recitation of the testimony could bolster his ruling during the appeals to come. Higher courts generally defer to trial judges’ rulings on factual questions that stem from a trial, although they still could determine that he was wrong on the law.
John Eastman, a conservative scholar who supported Proposition 8, said Walker’s analysis and detailed references to trial evidence were likely to persuade U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a swing vote on the high court, to rule in favor of same-sex marriage.
“I think Justice Kennedy is going to side with Judge Walker,” said the former dean of Chapman University law school.
Barry McDonald, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine University, said Walker’s findings that homosexuality is a biological status instead of a voluntary choice, that children don’t suffer harm when raised by same-sex couples and that Proposition 8 was based primarily on irrational fear of homosexuality “are going to make it more difficult for appellate courts to overturn this court’s ruling.”
For those wanting to know the legal dynamics and ramifications of yesterday’s decision—in digestible, newspaper-reader-friendly form—it’s a good piece to start. And The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes and Sandhya Somashekhar’s cover story, “Judge strikes California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8,” also leans heavily on the court proceedings, lifting much from the written ruling. (If you’re looking for a masterful read on the case before it even began, check this New Yorker piece from January.) If you’re looking for a somewhat more personal approach, try the San Francisco Chronicle.
Politico, true to form (and we probably don’t need a study to back that claim up), asks the very Politico question: How does this affect the President? In “California Ruling puts President Obama on the spot,” Josh Gerstein writes that the decision “poses a formidable threat to President Barack Obama’s strategy of relegating divisive social issues to the back burner.” It is, as ever, a very readable report, but you can hear cogs grinding under the strain as Gerstein tries to make this an Obama-midterm story.
Walker’s ruling alone might not be enough to put the gay-marriage issue at the forefront of the national agenda. But when combined with another federal judge’s decision a month ago striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and the possibility of yet another ruling soon against the military’s Don’t ask, don’t tell policy on gays, a notable judicial tilt towards gay rights seems to be underway that can only increase the prominence of the debate.
Coming on the eve of the midterm elections, the pro-gay-marriage rulings are also in tension with the sustained effort Obama and his top aides have made since the 2008 campaign to push polarizing and contentious social issues like gay rights, abortion, race, and even gun rights into the background.
While advocates on both sides are eager to see the same-sex marriage issue back in the headlines, it’s far from clear just how prominent a role it will ultimately take. With unemployment rates near 10 percent, the economy is likely to be the driving force at the ballot box this fall. The country is mired in a difficult war in Afghanistan, has faced a series of terrorist attacks, and is polarized over a groundbreaking federal effort to overhaul the health insurance system.
We suspect the last paragraph will hold most true in a week’s time, when this issue quiets down on its path to the next big court decision.
What is perhaps most interesting about the reporting generally is that aside from quotes from family groups and Prop 8 advocates, there is little of the emphasis on family values and human morality in any of the mainstream reporting, at least in the capacity of arguments against gay marriage. This includes today’s sharp takes from the Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor.