Gay marriage supporters hold vigil as trial begins on Prop. 8

10:05 AM, Jan 11, 2010   |    comments
  • Gay marriage supporters attend a vigil outside the Federal Building in San Francisco.
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ARCHIVES: The Prop 8 challenge trial: Read the U.S. District Court documents in the case

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - The nation's first federal trial on whether a ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional is set to begin Monday in San Francisco.   The U.S. Supreme Court Monday morning stepped into the case, blocking efforts to broadcast the proceedings on a delayed basis on YouTube.  The Justices say they want more time to review the case.  Their order preventing the broadcasts will remain in place until Wednesday. 

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker will preside over a two-week trial on a lawsuit in which two couples claim California's ban on same-sex marriage violates their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal treatment.

The ban was approved by state voters in 2008 as Proposition 8.

The couples' lawyers argued in a recent court filing the initiative "is an irrational, indefensible and unconstitutional measure."

Proposition 8 sponsors contend, however, that it is a reasonable way of preserving the traditional definition of marriage and supporting what they say is marriage's central purpose of having children raised by a father and mother.

Their attorneys have written, "The institution of marriage is, and has always been, uniquely concerned with promoting and regulating naturally procreative relationships between men and women to provide for the nurture and upbringing of the next generation."

Walker will decide the case without a jury and is expected to issue a written ruling sometime after the end of the trial.

The case is considered certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court after an intermediate stop in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

A previous five-year battle over same-sex marriage in California centered on the state Constitution and ended in May 2009 when the California Supreme Court said voters had the power to amend the state document to require marriage to be between a man and a woman.

The lawsuit filed in May by couples Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Burbank took a new direction by claiming violations of the federal Constitution.

The first witnesses to take the stand Monday will be the four plaintiffs. They are due to testify about the harms they allegedly have suffered from not being allowed to marry.

Their lawsuit says the harms include humiliation, emotional distress, stigma and denial of "the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage."

Other witnesses to be called to the stand by both sides will be university professors and other experts who will testify about the definition of marriage, its economic value, whether children of opposite-sex marriages fare better and the history of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for the two couples, said the case is the nation's first challenge to same-sex marriage restrictions to go to trial in a federal court.

Hundreds of gay marriage supporters are expected to attend an early morning vigil Monday at the Phillip Burton Building on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco before the trial.

Walker's Federal Building courtroom is expected to be crowded.

For those who want to see the proceedings live, the court has arranged for overflow seating with a video feed in the Ceremonial Courtroom at the Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue and in the library of the 9th Circuit at Seventh and Mission streets.

Remote viewing is also available at federal courthouses in Pasadena, Portland, Ore., Seattle, and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Gay marriage opponents asked the Supreme Court to block the broadcast, saying they fear witnesses' testimony may be affected if cameras are present.  The high court responded Monday by saying the trial could not be posted on, at least for the first few days until the justices have more time to consider the issue. 

Five U.S. states permit homosexual unions: Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

An August survey by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Americans oppose allowing gay men and lesbians to marry legally, but 57 percent favor allowing them to enter into civil unions, arrangements that give them many of the same rights.

Bay City News and The Associated Press

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