In Hollywood, films about gay and lesbian civil rights are the surefire choice these days for anyone looking to craft a prestige pic, but in a California federal court this week, the ultimate gay rights flick may wind up buried.
Same-sex marriage advocates and opponents are waged a fierce battle in San Francisco Monday as each side made their case over the fate of courtroom video in last year's Proposition 8 case. The video of the trial, which includes testimony from witnesses both for and against 2008's statewide gay marriage ban was ordered by the now-retired 9th Circuit of Appeals Judge Vaughn Walker during the trial after an attempt to broadcast the proceedings failed.
Since retiring, Walker has shown portions of the video to college campuses, causing Prop. 8 sponsors to claim that Walker is violating a previous California Supreme Court ruling not to release the tapes publicly. The fact that Walker revealed that he was gay (twist!) after ruling that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional didn't help matters either.
All of this would be just another episode of "Let's Sue Everybody!" in the ongoing legal drama of Prop. 8 were it not for the fact that, by all accounts, the video is incredibly damaging to Prop. 8's credibility. If gay rights are the social issue of the day, then the case video is a blockbuster combination of To Kill a Mockingbird, Twelve Angry Men and Inherit the Wind. Ted Olson, the former George W. Bush lawyer, argued against Prop. 8 on moral and civil grounds made mincemeat of Prop. 8 witnesses on the stand, leading many of them to admit under oath that there was no good reason to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry.
For Prop. 8 opponents, the hope is that the public release of these videos would put the argument for and against gay marriage out there for anyone to see. But for gays and lesbians, the release of the video would mean much more than a P.R. coup. For a community constantly feeling pressure to hide in the closet, Prop. 8 has been a horror movie, with the killer being a secret and stealthy silence. Whether it's the secret donors who pushed the proposition through or the fact that the greatest civil rights debate of a generation was being held behind closed doors, California's LGBT community have watched their civil rights quietly slashed.
There's now an opportunity for the trial to be seen by everyone: Those who voted for Prop. 8 and those who voted against. Speaking as one of the many whose civil rights were stripped by Prop. 8, it's hard for me to accept the argument that keeping the tapes sealed is necessary to protect witnesses, most of which are experts delivering professional opinion, not personal testimony.
If the Lakers lost a game, should they sue to prevent it's broadcast? Of course not, and if they tried, we'd rightly toss the bums out. The light of public scrutiny is essential to any healthy democracy. For California's gays and lesbians this is a reality show that they've been cast in against their will. The least you can do is watch.
Japhy Grant is a journalist who has written for Salon, True/Slant, The Advocate, OUT and The New York Observer. He is also the creator of the digital show, FOODIES and has directed music videos for bands like Grizzly Bear and online campaigns for brands like Max Azria. Read his commentaries on the LGBT community in Southern California every Tuesday on KCET's blog, SoCal Focus.