The same-sex marriage trial in San Francisco last month broke ground not only as the first federal trial of its kind, but also in generating a new level of Internet media coverage.
The 12-day trial on the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban was reported on in dozens of live blogs and Twitter feeds and on Facebook as well as in conventional radio, television and newspapers.
Most recently, two Los Angeles filmmakers have begun creating a full re-enactment of the trial on video that is now being posted on YouTube.
Producers John Ireland and John Ainsworth said today they don’t know of any other example of a full trial of that length being recreated on video and then broadcast.
The two men are using official transcripts of the trial and a cast of more than 40 volunteer professional actors to replicate the entire proceeding.
The producers said they thought of the project after the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote blocked a plan by U.S. District Vaughn Walker to allow videotaping and delayed posting on YouTube of the actual trial.
Ainsworth said, “I wanted to know what was going on in the courtroom. When the Supreme Court blocked that, it frustrated me.”
Ireland said, “The purpose is adding to the historical record, to exist as a resource for anyone who wants to judge for themselves the evidence that is being presented by both sides of the case.”
The two men support gay marriage, but said they are seeking to portray witnesses on both sides accurately and follow all details of the trial, including sometimes-tedious entering of documents into evidence.
“We don’t leave anything out,” Ainsworth said.
The filmmakers said there have been 6,000 viewings of the first episode on YouTube thus far, but said they expect that number to increase as news of the re-enactment spreads.
Ireland said, “There is a huge buzz on the Web about this trial.
When access was blocked, the thirst for information just grew exponentially.”
The trial was on a lawsuit in which a lesbian couple from Berkeley and a gay couple from Burbank claim California’s marriage ban violates their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment.
The measure was enacted by voters as Proposition 8 in 2008.
Testimony in the trial ended on Jan. 27 but Walker will hear closing arguments at a later date, possibly in March. The case was the nation’s first federal trial on a U.S. constitutional challenge to limits on same-sex marriage.
The couples’ lawsuit was sponsored by the newly created American Foundation for Equal Rights, based in Los Angeles.
Foundation spokesman Yusef Robb said the group was aware of “dozens upon dozens” of live blogs and Twitter feeds covering the trial, including the foundation’s own blog, tweets and Facebook site.
Bloggers included gay rights advocates, law professors, law students and news reporters, among others.
The blogging was made possible because Walker allowed spectators to bring laptops into his courtroom and into an overflow courtroom. The use of laptops in the courtroom has traditionally been allowed at the option of individual judges in federal court in San Francisco.
But the live videotaping proposed by Walker and blocked by the Supreme Court would have been the first camera coverage of a federal trial in the west, under a new rule approved in December by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The foundation didn’t work directly with the marriagetrial.com filmmakers, but paved the way for the re-enactment by publicly posting the official transcripts of the testimony on its Web site after each day of trial.
Robb said, “One of the outcomes we wanted to see was a national debate focused on facts and not on campaign issues. That is what is happening and it is incredibly gratifying.”
Proposition 8 was defended at the trial by the sponsors of the ballot initiative and their Sacramento-based campaign committee, ProtectMarriage.com.
The group appealed for and won the Supreme Court order blocking the videotaping of the actual trial. It argued that some defense witnesses feared they might be threatened if they appeared on camera and that the federal court didn’t allow enough time for public comment on the videotaping plan.
ProtectMarriage spokeswoman Carla Hass said the committee had its own blog, Twitter feed and Facebook site during the trial, as did the Alliance Defense Fund, a traditional-values law firm that aided in the defense of Proposition 8.
She said ProtectMarriage has no comment either approving or opposing the video re-enactment because the project is legally irrelevant.
“It won’t have an impact on the outcome of the case. From a legal standpoint, it’s immaterial,” she said.
Hass said that while the trial had some fascinating moments, much of it concerned procedural matters that were “incredibly dry and inside baseball.”
“I wouldn’t think it would be of wide interest,” she said.