Civil and Human Rights

Prop. 8: At West Hollywood bar, all eyes on Supreme Court

By Marisa Gerber


By 9:30 a.m., Todd Barnes, general manager at The Abbey in West Hollywood, said he had already fielded several phone calls from customers asking if the well-known gay and lesbian bar was doing anything special for Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing of arguments over California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage.


“Because The Abbey is what it is, people will probably trickle in all day,” Barnes said as he walked to a TV at the front of the bar and tuned it in to C-SPAN. “I think I need to call in another bartender.”


As a customer sipped his morning coffee and watched C-SPAN’s morning coverage of a “March for Marriage,” he shook his head and rolled his eyes.


Then a banner introducing Rev. Dr. Wanda Rolon, a prominent pastor from Puerto Rico, flashed across the screen.


Rolon’s voice boomed, almost as if she was singing a hymn, as she described marriage as “the union between one man and one woman.” The televised crowd at the march clapped and cheered.


Barnes, who supports gay marriage, laughed softly at her decree and another employee joked that it sounded like sports announcers at a soccer game.


“It’s too much,” Barnes said. “Too much.”


CHEAT SHEET: Your guide to Prop. 8 and DOMA 


The Times’ David G. Savage reported that the justices sounded closely split, but Justice Anthony M. Kennedy suggested during oral arguments that the court should strike down the California ban without ruling broadly on the issue of same-sex marriage.


Twice Kennedy questioned why the court had even voted to hear the California case. “I wonder if this case was properly granted,” he said at one point.


His comments suggested that the court’s four most conservative justices voted to hear the California case. Had the justices turned down the appeal, as Kennedy suggested, Proposition 8 would have been struck down as ruled by by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.


Minutes after the conclusion of arguments, Constitutional Accountability Center Vice President Judith E. Schaeffer released the following statement:


“When pressed by the justices, the lawyer defending Proposition 8 could not come up with any legitimate reason for excluding gay and lesbian couples from the freedom to marry. The justices, while uncomfortable with Proposition 8, seemed hesitant to rule on the merits, but as Justice Kennedy noted, there was concern about branding the families of nearly 40,000 children in California as second-class.


“One important question Justice [Antonin] Scalia asked former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who defended marriage equality, was when it became unconstitutional to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. The answer is 1868, when the American people added the 14th Amendment’s universal guarantee of equality to the Constitution.”


Gay marriage foes expressed confidence that the court would uphold the state’s ban on same-sex unions after hearing arguments on the law Tuesday.


“I think we are going to win this case,” Andy Pugno, lawyer for Proposition 8 campaign. “We definitely  represented the winning case today and the justices asked good thoughtful questions and we were able to say everything that we wanted to get in front of the court today.”

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