An outspoken gay marriage opponent serving as an official litigant defending the state's ban on same-sex weddings on Friday asked a judge to remove him from the lawsuit because he feared the trial would generate publicity that could endanger him and his family.
Hak-Shing William Tam was one of five people who formally intervened to defend the state from a federal lawsuit filed against California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown have declined to mount a defense on behalf of the state.
Tam and the other four interveners were also the official proponents of Proposition 8, which passed in November 2008 and was upheld four months later by the California Supreme Court.
"I dedicated the majority of my working hours between January 2008 and November 2008 toward qualifying Proposition 8 for the ballot and campaigning for its enactment," the San Francisco resident told the judge in May in urging to be named an official party to the lawsuit.
On Friday, Tam told the court that he was harassed and his property vandalized during the campaign, and feared similar retribution if he continued to represent gay marriage foes' interest in the lawsuit and trial, which is scheduled to start Monday in San Francisco.
"In the past I have received threats on my life, had my property vandalized and am recognized on the streets due to my association with Proposition 8," Tam said in a court filing. "Now that the subject lawsuit is going to trial, I fear I will get more publicity, be more recognizable and that the risk of harm to me and my family will increase."
In the months leading up the trial, lawyers for two unmarried same-sex couples on whose behalf the case was brought complained that Proposition 8's sponsors were withholding evidence to which the plaintiffs were entitled by citing a letter they had uncovered written by Tam to members of his church during the campaign.
In the letter, Tam outlined what he described as the disastrous consequences for allowing gays to marry in California.
"One by one, other states would fall into Satan's hands," he wrote. "Every child, when growing up, would fantasize marrying someone of the same sex. More children would become homosexuals."
The contents could come up in the trial because one of the issues is whether the measure's backers were motivated by anti-gay bias.
Tam on Friday didn't mention the judge's decision this week to allow cameras to video record the trial as a factor in his request. Lawyers for Proposition 8 interests asked an appeals court on Friday to halt the planned recording, saying they fear witnesses may restrain or alter their testimony if cameras are present in the courtroom.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request late in the day.
Federal trial courts generally prohibit cameras in the courtroom.
But with an eye on the Proposition 8 trial, chief judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit announced last month a pilot program to allow cameras to record civil trials decided by a judge without a jury. Kozinski said "being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a better public understanding of our judicial processes and enhanced confidence in the rule of law."
The appeals court has jurisdiction over federal courts in nine Western states and no federal trial in the region has ever allowed cameras. U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker on Wednesday decided to open the gay marriage trial to cameras, but barred live broadcasts. Video of the trial will be posted on YouTube.com several hours later.
Lawyers representing the gay couples who filed the lawsuit support cameras in the courtroom. So does a group of media organizations, including The Associated Press, that filed court papers Friday urging the 9th Circuit to uphold Walker's decision to allow cameras.
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