The Robert Wone case, the Prop 8 trial and the Portrayal of Family
On one coast is a trial to determine the guilt of a few, while at the same time,on the other coast, is another trial that has the potential to impact literally millions. The trial on the east coast seeks to limit the freedom of a few as a means of punishment, while the west coast trial seeks to expand freedom.
On the surface, the scope of these two trials couldn’t be more different. But at the center of each of these cases is the definition of family, particularly gay families.
The trial to overturn California’s Proposition 8, a ballot amendment that banned same-sex couples from marrying, reached its denouement with closing arguments this week. The obstruction of justice trial into the murder of Robert Wone in Washington, DC is rapidly reaching its own conclusion with the prosecution resting its case this week and the defense case being far shorter than expected.
How are these families portrayed?
In the San Francisco courthouse, gay families are portrayed as loving, two person couples whose right to marry is an inalienable right that is being denied. The plaintiffs in this case, one a gay couple, the other a lesbian pair, support the notion that gay couples are similar to heterosexual couples in living in a monogamous coupling situation.
In the Washington, DC courthouse, the gay family on trial is not a couple, but a self-admitted “polyamorous” relationship involving three gay men, who describe themselves as a family. The defense counsel describes them as a “cohesive unit,” a term the strips any emotion and intimate bonding from its definition.
The prosecution portrays this family as emotionally intimate, but also, through testimony and e-mails, as conniving and developing alliances of two to the exclusion of the other. And, if three wasn’t enough, this three-way is not portrayed as sexually exclusive to those involved, but also to have a broader and more fungible relationship with another man testifying that he slept with two of the three defendants before the murder, and one afterwards.
Without question, portrayals of gay families are on full public display this week. The definition of gay families in both of these cases couldn’t be farther apart than the country that separates these two trials. Neither are fully accurate, nor true. They are snapshots — committed, loving, cohesive, conniving — of gay lives designed to reach a legal goal, but are they who gay families really are?
In the Proposition 8 case, it is sad and unfortunate that gay families must be painted as coming in one type of model, “the loving, monogamous, committed couple” in order to secure a basic civil right that is already granted to all heterosexuals. The pressure to portray your private life in such a public way can and must be unbearable. Julie and Hillary Goodridge from Massachusetts, the couple that began the same-sex marriage ball rolling in our nation withered under the public spotlight and divorced shortly after winning their right to marry.
It it sad and wrong that the defense is left with having to strip any bonds of intimacy from the definition of the Swann Street family when they describe them as “cohesive unit.” They are not in the business of manufacturing a product, but rather are family like any other as they traverse the verisimilitudes of life. In order to win an acquittal for their clients, the defense has decided to limit as much discussion of gay family, and when then do, strip it of all meaning.
It is sad and wrong that the prosecution must resort to looking at the inner workings of family from the outside because they believe the defendants are not telling the full truth and lying to protect one another.
Whatever the case, never before has such different portrayals of gay families been on display in one week. And neither probably gets at what we all know to be the truth of family — they are messy, they are happy, they are sad, they are united and they are divided — all at the same time. They come in many shapes and sizes. And to look at just a snapshot of them, whether to earn a basic civil right, or a conviction in a criminal trial, does a great disservice to the value that families provides.
— Posted by David