David's constitutional equal-protection analysis is a respected one with a long pedigree in the Court's cases and in gay-rights legal theory. My aim is not to comment on the merits of that argument, but to make a somewhat different observation: for all the heroic feats of the Warren era and a few other decisions here and there, the federal courts have not been white knights riding in to save beleaguered minorities. As David knows well, we cannot rely on courts alone, or even on courts primarily, as a way to advance policies (or rights, if you prefer) resisted by popular majorities.
The Olson-Boies litigation is an act of faith in the heroic myth of the courts. It is faith-based litigation. Veteran court observers and litigators in gay-rights circles knew better than to act on this faith right now, which is one big reason they initially opposed the suit (another big reason is that they did not want to lose control), although they certainly share the commitment to the constitutional arguments.
Solely as a tactic to advance the cause of gay marriage, the Prop 8 litigation has offered two possible gifts. First, it might actually result in a constitutional win, giving us nationwide gay marriage decades ahead of legislative action. I doubt this will happen, even more now than when it was filed last year, for reasons I outlined yesterday.
Second, the process of litigation itself, win or lose, might educate the public about gay marriage. Through lawyers' arguments, brilliant briefs, landmark published decisions, and the live testimony of witnesses on both sides -- the sacraments and holy texts of lawyers -- the public might come to see how compelling the case for SSM is, and how thin or even hateful the opposition is. That has been the theory.
Now the theory meets fact. Other than those with committed views on SSM, nobody is paying attention to this trial. True, the pro-SSM and anti-SSM blogs are full of "coverage," which consists mostly (David excepted) of hooray- for-our-side commentary. Yesterday, while we reveled in the latest devastating analytical blows to Prop 8, its supporters were deriding the trial as a "desperate" attack on religion, which was halted by an "impenetrable roadblock" from their expert witness.
The public is oblivious to all of this. The Supreme Court precluded any possibility of a wider educative impact by stopping even limited broadcast. Now all we have is a transcript, in all its black-and-white glory. There has been no coverage of the trial on television and very little of it in major newspapers. Yesterday, the New York Times ran a three-paragraph story in the lower right-hand corner of page A13. That's been about it. Meanwhile, there's Haiti. There's healthcare. There's the ongoing meltdown of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. But even if these things weren't happening, something else would be sucking the oxygen out of the image-less Prop 8 trial.
At this point, the best outcome for SSM in the Prop 8 litigation might well be a loss in the Ninth Circuit. This would limit the harmful precedential effect of the case, allowing the Supreme Court to defer consideration of the constitutional claims so ably defended by David and others.
We don't need more faith-based litigation. We need to do the hard political work of persuading people that they have nothing to fear from the happiness and security of gay families. That is being done in only a very limited and indirect way in the Prop 8 trial, at potentially high cost. We need much more focus on democratic processes. Fortunately, that work has begun and is showing signs of success, both in polls and in legislatures.