Watching History in San Francisco

Decision to televise Prop 8 hearing would have impact beyond gay marriage

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Prop 8 hearing could affect decisions beyond gay marriage.

    A very important ruling involving one of California's most controversial trial in years is being considered in San Francisco Wednesday but its impact would reach far beyond the state's borders.

    A federal judge may decide on cameras being allowed on an experimental basis in the Proposition 8 trial, which is scheduled to start Monday.

    Even if you think that the fight over gay marriage has nothing to do with you, there are still reasons this trial could be important for everyone, regardless of sexual preference.

    Television cameras witnessed gay marriage ceremonies at San Francisco City Hall for a brief time when they were legal in 2008. On Wednesday, a judge may decide whether TV cameras will witness the trial important for a range of issues -- not just of gay marriage. This fight also has to do with the battle between the amendment and judicial process and our changing times.

    "This is a very fundamental, even historic lawsuit. It's not just a question of gay marriage, should it be legal or not," Rory Little, professor of law at the Hastings College of the Law said. "That's the important popular issue but the real issue is, will the initiative process be allowed to control no matter what it does or are there constitutional constraints on that?"

    Little says that allowing cameras in a federal court for the first time in the Western U.S. is part of an effort open up the process so more people might understand how the system works. Opponents say this case is too important to be the guinea pig. However, the flip side argument is that this is the case people are paying attention to and that if the first camera was in something like a bankruptcy trial, fewer people might pay attention.

    If the judge decides to allow cameras at the hearing, there are a lot of logistical issues to settle between now and Monday -- when it is scheduled to start. Questions remain about how many cameras to have in the courtroom, when to turn them on and off and whether witnesses have a right to decline being videotaped. Some have said they won't testify if they don't have that choice.

    All of the issues will be discussed when the pretrial hearing begins at the federal courthouse at 10 a.m. Wednesday.