A district court judge in California has ordered Protect Marriage, the group behind the successful repeal of same-sex marriage, to turn over certain financial records related to their campaign.
Denying a request to shield the information, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said the Protect Marriage campaign had failed to show that providing private e-mails, memos and reports would inhibit the political activities of gay marriage opponents or subject them to unbridled harassment. “The First Amendment qualified privilege proponents seek to invoke, unlike the attorney-client privilege, for example, is not an absolute bar against disclosure,” Walker wrote in an 18-page order. “Rather, the First Amendment qualified privilege requires a balancing of the plaintiffs’ need for the information sought against proponents’ constitutional interests in claiming the privilege.”
The judge agreed with lawyers for two unmarried same-sex couples who have sued to strike down the ban, known as Proposition 8, that confidential communications between the campaign’s leaders and professional consultants could reveal a rationale for denying gays the right to wed that is relevant to the case. The lawsuit argues that the measure was motivated by hostility toward gays and as such must be struck down as inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equality. “What was decided not to be said in a political campaign may cast light on what was actually said,” Walker said. At the same time, the judge said the couples’ lawyers must limit their fact-finding request to cover only central issues and individuals, including Mormon and Catholic church representatives who served on the executive committee that oversaw the campaign. He also left open the possibility that he would restrict public access to the documents.
Protect Marriage says they are “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling. Cue the sad trombone.