A look at the expert witnesses in the marriage equality case

Posted Jul 19, 2013 by Anna Johansson
After DOMA was overturned just a few weeks ago, many are still outrage while others rejoice. This article discusses the expert witnesses in that monumental case.
File photo: Gay marriage supporters celebrating the SCOTUS decision on DOMA  Prop 8 in Washington
File photo: Gay marriage supporters celebrating the SCOTUS decision on DOMA, Prop 8 in Washington
Ted Eytan
The debate and legislation regarding marriage equality in the U.S. has led to heated debate various political, legal, and religious arenas. As of July 2013, thirteen states have adopted legislation to allow same-sex marriage and seven states permit civil unions.
Expert witnesses from both sides of this debate are swaying public opinions, with many people's civil rights at stake. A valuable expert witness is one that can establish credibility with their audience, based on their professional, academic, or experiential training. Here you will read about key expert witnesses in the marriage equality debate and how they have changed the political landscape.
Opinions that mattered
Economics and law experts such as Dennis J. Ventry Jr., a professor at UC Davis, illustrates how taxes can damage the lives of same-sex couples whose marriages were not recognized federally, because of DOMA restrictions. In fact, civil rights activist Edie Windsor's challenge against the United State Supreme Court was the pivotal case that led to DOMA's downfall in 2013. Windsor will receive $638,000 back from the IRS and New York States, after she was forced to pay the estate taxes on her late spouse's property. Windsor would have been protected from these exorbitant taxes if the federal government had recognized her marriage. Since DOMA was struck down, she will get this money back with interest.
Expert witness David Blankenhorn has turned the tables, speaking out in support of gay marriage in 2012 after his extensive involvement with the anti-gay political movement. Blankenhorn founded the Institute for American Values and has authored books lambasting legal same-sex unions. So it was a major surprise when Blankenhorn reversed his views by recanting his anti-gay stance in an opinion piece published by The New York Times. His view plays an important role in the same-sex marriage debate, since he now has a well-rounded view of both perspectives. As a former anti-gay advocate, Blankenhorn is able to key into his opposition's main concerns and beliefs to strengthen his pro-gay arguments.
George Allen Rekers has served as an expert witness promoting anti-gay rhetoric in several court cases regarding adoption rights. He has served as a faculty member for several reputable colleges, including UCLA, the University of Florida, and Kansas State University. However, his credibility and reputation have been questioned after a media scandal. Rekers allegedly returned from a vacation with an openly gay male prostitute. When expert witnesses experience this type of media backlash, it can do major damage to the arguments and stances they are trying to represent.
The tribulations of winning at trial
Finding expert witnesses to deliver informative and persuasive testimonies is a difficult, but necessary part of litigation. Attorneys look for individuals that have a history in making successful arguments in past cases. For example, Professor George Chauncey has provided expert testimony in a number of civil rights and marriage law cases, providing his expertise on LGBTIQ history. His most noteworthy victory came during the 2010 Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, in which Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and denied civil rights without reason.
Attorneys search for topic expert such as Chauncey to bolster their arguments, and may even seek out new supporters like Blankenhorn to destabilize their opponents' positions. Experts should be thoroughly interviewed before they are brought onto a case, to make sure that they are an appropriate fit. These expert witnesses that lawyers find can make or break a litigation case, which is why this screening process is so important. Once the right matches are found, attorneys and their clients work directly with an expert to prepare a strong and effective argument with supporting evidence. This kind of preparation can lead to victory in the courtroom.