A federal trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 opened in San Francisco today with two same-sex couples testifying that they felt humiliated and demeaned by being denied the right to marry.

The two couples–Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Burbank – are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that claims California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates their federal constitutional rights.

They were called to the stand by their lawyers as the first witnesses in a two-week trial on the lawsuit that will be decided by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker without a jury.

The proceeding is the first federal trial in the nation on restrictions on same-sex marriage and the outcome is expected to be appealed eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The California measure was enacted by state voters as Proposition 8 in 2008.

Stier, 47, a technology manager for Alameda County, said campaign ads that urged voters to support Proposition 8 to protect children “felt hurtful to me.”

Stier and Perry, 45, the director of a children’s advocacy agency, said they have been together for 10 years and are raising a blended family of four sons between the ages of 15 and 21.

Stier said, “The best thing for children is to have parents who love them. I know I love my children with all my heart and I know Kristin loves our children with all her heart.”

Perry described walking into the bleachers at a football game at two of the sons’ high school and seeing other parents who are friends.

“I was so acutely aware that they’re all married and I’m not,” she told Walker.

Both women testified that a legal domestic partnership, for which they have registered, is not the same as marriage.

Perry said, “I don’t have access to the words that describe my relationship. I’m a 45-year-old woman who has been in love for 10 years.”

She said marriage “symbolizes the most important relationship in your life that you’ve chosen.”

During Katami’s testimony earlier in the day, attorney David Boies showed videos of two Proposition 8 television advertisements on screens in Walker’s crowded Federal Building courtroom.

One video ended in the words, “Stand up for righteousness. Vote YES on Prop 8.”

When asked by Boies how that made had him feel, Katami, 37, said his heart raced with anger because it implied, “So we’re a class of citizens or a category of people that need to be stood up against for some reason.”

He said, “We’re no harm. We want to do one thing. I want to get married to Jeff. I want to start a family.

“I’m not going out to start some movement that’s going to harm any one person or institution or a child,” Katami said.

Other witnesses scheduled to testify include the official sponsors of Proposition 8 and experts for both sides to speak on issues such as the historical meaning of marriage and whether children fare better when their parents are a heterosexual married couple.

The first of the plaintiffs’ experts, Harvard University American history professor Nancy Cott, began testifying at the end of the day.

Cott, the author of a book about the history of marriage in the United States, said that marriage has historically been a civil right. She said slaves were not allowed to marry because they were not free to give consent to the future course of their lives.

Marriage also has a cultural value “as the principal happy ending to all our romantic tales,” she said.

The trial began with brief opening statements in which attorneys on the two sides offered contrasting views of marriage.

Theodore Olson, representing the couples, told Walker, “Marriage is the most important relation in life,” while Charles Cooper, a lawyer for Proposition 8 sponsors, said marriage is “a pro-child social institution.”

Olson noted that his comment was a quotation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s words in a different case.

He argued that Proposition 8 “stigmatizes gays and lesbians and says ‘Your relationship is not the same'” as those of heterosexual couples.

Olson and Boies were the lead attorneys on opposite sides of a legal battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore over the results of the 2000 presidential election, but were recruited to join forces in representing the two couples.

Cooper argued Proposition 8 was justified because the basic purpose of marriage is “to promote naturally procreative sexual activity in a stable and enduring relationship” that will nurture children.

He contended that gays and lesbians were not the target of ill will or discriminatory intent in the initiative campaign.

“There are millions of Americans who believe in equal rights for gays and lesbians but draw the line at marriage,” he told the judge.

When Walker asked whether same-sex marriage would harm traditional marriage, Cooper said the long-term outcome could only be predicted, but argued that a change would not be worth the risk of destabilizing the traditional institution.

A plan by Walker to allow a delayed broadcast of the trial on YouTube was blocked this morning by the U.S. Supreme Court, which stayed the video coverage until at least Wednesday while it considers whether to permit it.

The broadcast would have been the first of a federal trial in western states.

The Proposition 8 sponsors claim in an emergency appeal to the high court that witnesses could be intimidated by the broadcast and that the court didn’t provide for adequate public notice and comment when it adopted a rule allowing the coverage.

Walker said at the start of the trial that he was awaiting the guidance of the Supreme Court on the issue.

But he said, “In this day and age of technological advance and the importance of the public right of access to the courts, it’s very important to have the judiciary work to achieve that access.”

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