Debra J. Saunders

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker opened the gates to hell this month when he ruled that strategists for Proposition 8 -- the 2008 ballot measure, passed by 52 percent of California voters, that limited marriage to a man and a woman -- must release internal campaign documents to measure opponents.

Political activists of all stripes beware: Unless this ruling is overturned, the word will be out that sore losers who can't beat you at the ballot box and probably can't beat you in court can file a lawsuit designed to pry away proprietary information that they later can use to embarrass you.

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And be clear: Every campaign has its dirty laundry. Including, I would imagine, the Proposition 8 opposition. What was Walker thinking? As The Chronicle's Bob Egelko has reported, the plaintiffs -- two same-sex couples, a gay rights organization and the city of San Francisco -- cite a previous federal ruling to argue that if the court finds that Proposition 8 backers were motivated by discrimination, then the court can strike down the measure without having to decide if gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.

Confused? You are not alone. After all, there is little mystery about why voters approved Proposition 8. More people opposed same-sex marriage than supported it.

If there were any mystery about the sponsors' intent, the California voter pamphlet and campaign literature could fill in the blanks.

But opponents of the measure are not satisfied with the public record. They want to see strategy documents for themes not presented to the electorate. Matthew McGill, who represents the two same-sex couples, told me, "The Prop. 8 proponents have said that Prop. 8 is motivated by entirely benign concerns such as 'responsible procreation.' We're entitled to test that assertion."

Walker agreed. Thus he ordered Proposition 8 authors to hand over "enough information about the strategy and communications of the Prop. 8 campaign to afford a record upon which to discern the intent underlying Prop. 8's enactment."

Opponents are trolling for information that "would constitute a binding admission or a statement directly at odds with representations" made by Proposition 8 proponents in court. The problem is, campaigns are messy things, famous for infighting and factions.

Suppose that a campaign staffer suggested a television spot that focused on a specific religious objection to same-sex marriage, and campaign biggies rejected that advice. Would that mean the campaign sponsors agreed with the suggestion, or did not?

Debra J. Saunders

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