Regardless of the final disposition of the gay marriage case, what the California trial and the ruling of Judge Walker most immediately called to mind for me was Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al, litigated and decided in 2005 (and chronicled in stirring detail by Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker). The constitutional and substantive issues in the two cases were not the same, of course.
But there are some striking similarities between the California and Dover cases and these are instructive for appreciating the nature of the contemporary right in America and of contemporary political discourse.
[I]n each case, when a favored position of the right-wing was subject to thorough-going, fact-based scrutiny, that position wasn't merely found wanting, but was utterly demolished....
After listening to expert scientific testimony for six weeks, including from the leading "scholars" in the field of intelligent design, Judge Jones [in the Kitzmiller case] ruled that ID was...nothing more than a cover for creationism,... [and he] noted that the religious nature of intelligent design would be readily apparent to an adult or child.
Likewise, in the California case, the presiding Judge, after hearing copious expert testimony as to the "facts" of gay marriage and its effects children specifically and society generally, found that the proponents of Proposition 8 (those opposed to gay marriage) simply had no factual case.... Consequently, the court ruled, there was no rational, secular state interest to be advanced by the ban on gay marriage, only the perpetuation of prejudice (or, more charitably, of a religious "principle" not reasonably related to any compelling secular purpose).
Weiler is right to not conflate a legal victory with a victory in public opinion or perception.
A finding of fact in a formal legal setting does not demonstrate the efficacy of facts in the context of political discourse. In fact, corrections to misinformation or the presenting of facts in a political context--i.e., one without a great deal of critical thinking--can actually backfire and cause the further entrenchment of misinformed beliefs.
In a society in which partisanship is rank and pervasive, and in which partisan political communication is:
1. rhetorically savvy (e.g., merely evoking journalism's standard practices and ethics by way of faux-journalistic formats buttressed by commentary to regularly convey ideological bias and even specific language (e.g., talking points, buzzwords), and
2. psychologically gratifying to the primary audience (i.e., the communication confirms the preconceptions of the audience, flatters the audience subtly, or both)
rulings against Creationism or same-sex marriage bans can fail to change minds, and can actually be cited by anti-science and anti-gay marriage operators to support their messaging.
For instance, permit this speculation: the religious right is presenting the Dover case not as evidence of solid reasoning but as evidence of American cultural decline, willful back-turning against God by the nation, scientists, or an unsaved judge, or even evidence of a global, more-than-a-century old conspiracy--or mass, even partially subconscious self-delusion--relative to the evidence and reasoning accumulated and reconfirmed on a daily basis by biological, geological, archaeological, astronomical, and physics experimentation, testing and observations (and, when relevant, mathematical modeling) executed by professionals who are trained in skepticism, sometimes eager to disprove one another's findings, and fully aware that the ultimate prize and prestige in science goes to those who overturn long-held conclusions.
Evidence demands a verdict, and in the political communication efforts of the religious right, the evidence of Judge Jones's ruling in the Dover case does not further a verdict that the earth is billions of years old, that the universe is expanding, that there's only one biological language for all of life (i.e., DNA), that genetics points to common ancestry for organisms.... No. The verdict is: "What we've thought all along is always going to be right."