Prop 8 Trial Day 3: “Brokeback” Politics

A lawyer for the Prop 8 campaign this morning argued that successful films like “Brokeback Mountain” and shows like “WIll & Grace” are indications that attitudes toward gays and lesbians have changed, and that they enjoy significant public support.

David Thompson, who is on the legal team defending California’s ban on same-sex marriage, was arguing that polls show a significant shift in public opinion, with gays and lesbians also gaining political power and the support of elected representatives like Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank.

Thompson was cross-examining Yale historian George Chauncey, brought in to argue that gays and lesbians still face discrimination after a long history of it.

Per the New York Times, Thompson asked Chauncey, “There has been a remarkable growth of acceptance of gay people in our time, correct?”

Chauncey replied, “I think there’s been a growth in support and a growing polarization of American society over gay issues.”

There’s been significant reaction among bloggers to the “Brokeback” reference, including one post here, as well as his use of Rick Warren to show how churches have changed. (Warren said that they should show “respect” for all people “regardless of their lifestyle.”)

Later in the morning, a depositon video was shown of William Tam, one of the defendants and an organizer of the Prop 8 campaign. He’s asked to be taken off the case, citing fear of retribution and annoyance at the discovery process, but he’s also source of one of the plaintiffs’ more telling pieces of evidence that more the marriage motivated Prop 8 supporters. Tam had written a letter calling on fellow members of his church to vote Yes on 8, contending, among other things, that gay marriage will encourage more children to experiment with the “gay lifestyle.” Per Twitter posts, in the deposition Tam was asked, “And is it your understanding that part of the gay agenda is legalizing underage sex?” Tam responded, “Right.”

Finally, we’re expecting word soon from the Supreme Court as they consider whether to continue a ban on TV coverage of the trial. One note I didn’t make on Monday: Judge Vaughn Walker clarified his plan, saying that what he’s seeking is not YouTube coverage but streaming on the court’s own website. He compared it to what offers, although that is a mix of its own video and that provided by YouTube. I think his point was that the streaming wouldn’t be subjected to the wild world of Internet video, shared and passed around willy nilly, but a much more controlled atmosphere reverential to the court process. Nevertheless, Prop 8 supporters are still opposed to the plan.

Update: Andrew Pugno, general counsel of, wrote in a blog post that the defendant gained new ground during the cross examination of Chauncy. Pugno writes, “In his own words, he said “there has been a significant shift in public opinion in acceptance of and support for gays and lesbians.” It was also interesting that Chauncey agreed with President Obama that one can be against same-sex marriage without that position reflecting any moral disapproval of homosexuals.”

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