On Monday, impoverished Imperial County, California, a lightly-populated, largely agricultural desert county east of San Diego, appeared as the only governmental entity in the state of California to seek standing as a proponent in the case to overturn Proposition 8.
Whether or not the County has the standing to participate in the appeal is up to the panel of judges to determine. (Attorney Robert Tyler, appearing on behalf of Imperial County deputy clerk Isabel Vargas, proved himself embarrassingly unprepared to answer standing-related questions from Judge Michael Hawkins. Tyler, a former employee of the Alliance Defense Fund, is founder of the nonprofit legal firm Advocates for Faith and Freedom.)
The deeper question is this: what special moral stake does Imperial County have in the anti-same sex marriage fight?
The county (population: 166,000) is about 75% Latino. About 25% of residents live below the poverty line. Its official unemployment rate of 30.4% is the highest in the nation. When same-sex marriage was legal in California, about 50 Imperial County couples lined up to make their vows at the county courthouse in El Centro. In November 2008, about 67% of County voters voted Yes on 8. About one year later, in November 2009, the Alliance Defense Fund contacted Imperial County Board of Supervisors Wally Leimgruber to ask if the County would stand as the only governmental entity to defend Proposition 8 in court. Leimburger and the Alliance Defense Fund recruited pro-bono representation and put the matter before a vote of the County Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors approved, and County deputy clerk Isabel Vargas entered the fight.
To be clear, with legal counsel outsourced to the Alliance Defense Fund and their proxies, no County funds are being directed into the defense of Proposition 8. But with recent polling showing that a majority of Latino Catholics now support marriage equality (as we’ve reported here at RD), one wonders whether the working-class (and deeply unemployed) Latino majority of Imperial County is setting the moral agenda or whether they’re being played by a highly motivated set of outsiders with no longterm interest in the welfare of the people of this perenially hardscrabble corner of California.