What Prop. 8 Defenders Don’t Want You to Know

While we await closing arguments in the Prop. 8 federal trial, defenders of the California ballot measure are trying to cast doubt on the validity of the proceedings by claiming the trial should never have taken place.

“To think that somehow the rules of evidence can lead you to the right answer is just not right,” says Jordan W. Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group that supports the ban on same-sex marriage. He argues that the trial was pointless because “California voters got all of this evidence, more or less, during the campaign for or against Prop. 8.”

As someone who has been closely following the trial on sites such as Prop 8 Trial Tracker and Firedoglake, I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, the trial has taken us behind the scenes of the Yes on 8 campaign to reveal deliberate efforts to mislead voters about the negative consequences of legalized same-sex marriage.

Here’s my list of the top four myths promoted in the campaign–all of which were debunked by evidence presented in the trial:

  • Myth 1: Banning same-sex marriage protects children.

Much of the Yes on 8 campaign focused on the idea of protecting children; however, during the trial no credible evidence was presented to substantiate the assertion that same-sex marriage is harmful to kids. What did become clear is that the idea of “protecting” children played up on existing hostilities toward gay and lesbian people, implying that children should not be exposed to gays and lesbians—or even learn of their existence—because of possible moral taint or molestation.

Expert witnesses and supporting documents disproved such claims and further made the case that same-sex marriage is actually beneficial to children with gay and lesbian parents. When same-sex marriage is unavailable, these children are more likely to be subjected to belittlement by other children and may have trouble in school because of their inability to characterize their parents’ relationships as being on an equal footing with those of their peers.

A coalition of family therapy groups stated unequivocally in an amicus brief: “No peer-reviewed research supports a conclusion that same-sex couples are less effective parents than heterosexual couples.”

  • Myth 2: Same-sex marriage harms straight marriages.

Protecting marriage was and remains a central stated goal of the opponents of marriage equality. But when asked directly by the judge in a pretrial hearing to explain how same-sex marriage hurts heterosexual marriages, the defense attorney could only answer, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” During the trial, no empirical evidence supported this claim.

In fact, in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004, the divorce rate has gone down, not up. David Blankenhorn, a witness in defense of the ban, inadvertently put it best under cross examination: Referring to the deinstitutionalization of marriage, he said, “Heterosexuals, you know, did the deinstitutionalizing.”

  • Myth 3: The Prop. 8 campaign was not about homophobia.

“Hate the sin, not the sinner” is one of the slogans of the anti-gay-marriage movement, but when you look closely at their campaign materials it becomes hard to see that distinction.

In a pro-Prop. 8 video, The ABCs of Protecting Marriage, a leading supporter claims he is working “to turn back the tides of evil.” Frequent associations are made between homosexuality and the devil. Legalizing same-sex marriage in California, according to one leader, would mean that  “one by one other states would fall into Satan’s hands.” This same person claimed that the “gay lifestyle…comes with all kinds of disease.” A Chinese-language Prop. 8 flier states, “If homosexuality was a normal behavior, deadly diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis and pneumonia would not exist.”

Such inflammatory claims clearly promote hatred against the “sinners” as well as the sin.

  • Myth 4: Same-sex marriage will change an institution that has remained stable throughout the ages.

Many opponents of marriage equality refer to “God’s plan” for marriage and point to the Bible as the basis for their views. During the trial, however, expert witnesses reviewed the actual history of the institution, pointing out that women were once viewed as property within marriage and that slaves, who were not considered fully human by their owners, were denied marriage rights entirely.

Advances in the status of women have led to more egalitarian marriages in which male superiority is not necessarily reinforced. The so-called “marriage defenders” would like to turn back the clock on these advances, but that doesn’t invalidate them.

Since the Supreme Court ruled to prevent the Prop. 8 trial from being broadcast, it has been less accessible to a wider audience than it might otherwise have been–and this is exactly what the opponents of marriage equality want: Fewer eyes on the trial means they can continue spreading misinformation.

If you haven’t already done so, read the transcripts and supporting documents for this landmark trial. I also highly recommend the Marriage Trial Re-enactments, produced in response to the broadcast ban. Whichever side wins, this case has contributed immensely to the debate on same-sex marriage rights, and the lessons it offers deserve a fair hearing.

UPDATE: In June of 2015, The Supreme Court of The United States legalized same-sex marriage across the country.


Audrey Bilger is the current president of Reed College, and previously served as vice president and dean of Pomona College. She is also a former professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College and faculty director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse. She also teaches gender studies, and occasionally yoga. Her latest book, which she co-edited with Michele Kort, is Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage (Seal Press, 2012). She is also the author of Laughing Feminism, editor of an edition of Jane Collier’s 1753 satire "An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting," and a frequent contributor to Bitch magazine. Her work has been featured in The Paris Review, Rockrgrl, the Huffington Post and the Women's Media Center.