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The Other Aspect of the Prop 8 Case: Shifting Public Opinion

At the end of the press conference celebrating another court victory in the quest to overturn California’s Prop 8, Ted Olson had to explain why it was being held in the former Catholic cathedral of Los Angeles.

“We had to have a news conference about marriage in a spot where marriage takes place,” he quipped, his voice echoing in the marbled majesty of what was once St. Vibiana’s.

Olson and others stressed the legal importance of the 9th Circuit’s ruling, which seemed to have repackaged U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s earlier, more sweeping ruling into a far narrower one, as if to make it more palatable to the Supreme Court. But the org behind the press conference, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, founded by Rob Reiner, Chad Griffin and other entertainment and political activists, has also grasped the court of public opinion.

On Tuesday, the legal team and plaintiffs appeared before a row of eight American flags, a couple talked of living lives following the Golden Rule and just about every speaker talked of the American dream.

“Thank God for the judiciary to respect the Constitution,” said Olson, whose reverence seemed to fit the surroundings.

Since the suit was filed in May, 2009, same-sex marriage has been legalized in states like New York, but public opinion has shifted to a slightly net positive in favor of gay nuptials.

As this has occurred, so too has the rhetoric of religious freedom. Even though the Prop 8 rulings clearly apply to only civil marriage, the Catholic leaders in California condemned the ruling, and GOP candidates cited it as an example of where traditional values are being trampled upon.

“This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court,” Mitt Romney said in a statement. “That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values.”

In his dissent, Judge Randy Smith wrote, “The family structure of two committed biological parents -–- one man and one woman -–- is the optimal partnership for raising children.”

Countering this were the plaintiffs, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, and Sandy Stier and Kris Perry, who have appeared at many other press conferences, but this time they brought members of their families. Stier and Perry brought two of their sons, one of whom, Spencer, said, “With this ruling in the eyes of the government my parents and my family are finally normal.”

Attention now shifts to whether the case will end up at the Supreme Court, which has always loomed as the presumed climax. Even if they take the case, it is not certain that they will even make a ruling resolving the weighty question of whether same-sex marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution. Even if such a final showdown doesn’t happen, the case already has played a big role in changing the nature of the debate, perhaps for good.

“When I was growing up in a small town in Arkansas, my mom taught me the Golden Rule: treat others as you would be treated,” Griffin told those gathered. “That is really all we are talking about here today: Being treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else.”

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