SPLC files a Friend-of-the-Court urging Supreme Court to strike down Proposition 8

The Southern Poverty Law Center today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the Court to uphold a lower court’s ruling that Proposition 8 violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. Proposition 8, or “Prop. 8”, is the 2008 ballot initiative that took away marriage for same-sex couples in California. The brief was filed in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

In the brief, the SPLC and its co-counsel Keker & Van Nest LLP identify trial evidence showing that Prop. 8 was designed to send a clear and unmistakable message to California voters: same-sex marriages -- as well as gay men and lesbians -- are to be feared, distrusted, and scorned. The trial record reveals a ballot campaign filled with hostility and fear-mongering against gay people, featuring vicious sexual stereotypes, warnings about a moral degradation of society caused by same-sex marriage, and attempts to stoke fear in the hearts of parents for the safety and welfare of their children.

For example, supporters of Prop. 8 linked recognition of same-sex marriage to pedophilia, incest, polygamy, prostitution, and bestiality. Prop. 8 Proponent Bill Tam wrote that gay people “lose no time in pushing the gay agenda—after legalizing same-sex marriage, they want to legalize prostitution. What will be next? On their agenda list is: legalizing having sex with children.” Evocative imagery helped supporters of Proposition 8 brand the LGBT movement, and the desire for recognition of same-sex marriage, as threatening and inspired by evil. A Protectmarriage.com video compared the recognition of same-sex marriage to the terrorist attacks of September 11, and the American Family Association’s video called on voters to “stop the gay marriage juggernaut in California as the Armageddon.”

This evidence, along with other evidence from the Prop. 8 campaign contained in the brief, demonstrates that the Prop. 8 campaign purposefully stoked fear about gay men and lesbians. Citing Romer v. Evans, the brief urges the Supreme Court to condemn Prop. 8 as unconstitutional, as it singles out a class of people only “to make them unequal to everyone else.”

“The arguments advanced by supporters of Prop. 8 seem like echoes from America’s past, harkening back to messages used to fight racially-mixed marriage in the 1950s and 1960s” said Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director. “Recognizing stark animus for what it is, the SPLC—based on our decades-long history of fighting discrimination born of hatred and ill-will—files this brief to spotlight key aspects of the record.”

The SPLC has previously appeared as counsel or amicus curiae in numerous cases challenging discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, including as counsel of record in Frontiero v. Richardson, which paved the way for the Supreme Court’s subsequent holding that intermediate scrutiny applies to gender-based discrimination. Currently, the SPLC represents Tracey Cooper-Harris, a decorated, disabled Army veteran and her same-sex spouse Maggie in a case challenging the federal government’s refusal to recognize their legally valid marriage. More information about Tracey and Maggie’s case can be found here.

Counsel on the brief included Sun and Sara Zampierin from the SPLC, and Jon B. Streeter, Daniel Purcell, Kate E. Lazarus, and Katherine M. Lovett from Keker & Van Nest LLP in San Francisco, California.