Cameras in the courtroom are a stupid idea. We've been dabbling with the televised court proceedings in Connecticut. My experience to date suggests that, at least at the trial level, all the public really wants is a picture of the person accused of a heinous crime. This is titillation, not education. The same public that pauses to gawk at an accident scene wants to see the accused killer plead not guilty: We just love road kill.
I was therefore surprised when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit abruptly announced that it would permit television cameras in civil trials. What was Judge Alex Kozinski thinking, I wrote. As a result of this, I received, and still receive, emails from several groups who now count me a fellow traveler.
One of these groups is called Protect Marriage. A woman named Carla Hass sends me daily emails now, "updating" me on the proceedings in the trial challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure outlawing gay marriage. Protect Marriage also opposed televising these proceedings.
Another writer sent me a piece from the National Review which outed the Ninth Circuit's move to televise court proceedings as a species of "liberal" activism, a mere smokescreen designed and intended simply to assure television coverage of the Proposition 8 proceedings. The writer asserted that the trial judge in that case, United States District Judge Vaughn Walker, viewed the proceedings as this century's Scopes trial, and wanted to assure broad publicity.
I write here to ask, to plead, actually, to be thrown out of the bed I am now sharing with Protect Marriage and the National Review. I oppose cameras in the courtroom because I think it inconsistent with the dignity of court proceedings. But I support gay marriage because I think it consistent with fundamental human decency.
Some seven million California voters approved Proposition 8. And hence, Protect Marriage reasons, the people have spoken. The courts have no business tinkering with fundamental social institutions like marriage, the argument goes. Marriage, after all, serves the purpose of procreation. The institution has deep roots in our society and culture: one man, one woman, for life.
I think of marriage as something more than licensed sexual intercourse. And I think of intercourse as more than rutting in the name of the species. Marriage, and all that it entails, is a commitment of one person to another. It nourishes, sustains, and, from time to time, challenges in ways that force one partner to learn to regard another's claims as of equal or greater significance than our own. Marriage is a good thing. Few doubt that.
I cannot see the justification or logic in denying gays and lesbians the right to marry. It strikes me as cruel to say that just because a person's libidinal compass points East rather than West they should be denied the succor and social standing of being a spouse to another.
Opponents of gay marriage who rally under a banner reading "Protect Marriage" startle me. No one is trying to prevent anyone from getting married. Expanding the right to marry encourages marriage. Just how does the extension of a right I enjoy to another person diminish the right I have? There is something like envy, one of the seven deadly sins, at work here.
The agenda of those opposing gay marriage is really something other than protecting marriage. It is more an incipient brand of nostalgia for a bygone era, an era in which God sat confidently in the Heavens. However, and this is the point, all has never been right with the world. Biblically literal people know this, if they have ever read about Adam and Eve.
So what of this linkage between opposition to gay marriage and televised court proceedings? I guess it really does have to do with the Scopes monkey trial. Recall in that case that the law banning the teaching of evolution resulted in a conviction of Mr. Scopes. The Biblical literalists won the trial. But they lost the battle for public opinion. Clarence Darrow crushed his opponents.
Prejudice works best in dark and silent places. Sunshine disinfects. The only justification for a ban on gay marriage is an antiquated theology. Opponents of gay marriage don't want to admit that. They prefer darkness to light. Shame on them for hating so; shame on them for denying that human dignity transcends libidinal boundaries.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.