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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  • JustSomeDude

    I believe the defendants have a much stronger case. This is not a civil rights issue. Gays and lesbians have the same right under the law to marry as those with a hetero sexual preference. A gay man can marry a woman and a gay woman can marry a man. Just like a straight man can marry a woman or a straight woman can marry a man. It doesn’t matter whether you are gay, straight, transgender, black, hispanic, white, asian… In this case, we all have the same right to marry under the law.

    In our society, the fact is that nobody has the right to marry anybody they love. There have always been and continue to be certain restrictions on marriage. A thirty year old can’t marry a fourteen year old no matter how much they love each other. A married man can’t wed a single woman. Two women can’t marry one man.

    For the most part, the state needs to stay out of marriage but there are certain circumstances when it is forced to be involved. If the state has to be involved for legal reasons in the dissolution of marriage (e.g. when divorce courts determine child and property rights), it certainly has to be involved in the certifying of it. In those circumstances, it is necessary and common practice for the courts to decide what is the ideal circumstance under which the children should be raised. The precedent has overwhelmingly favored placing children in married homes. That is because there is a mountain of evidence that shows that boys and girls learn only certain things from men and certain things from women, all of which is important for their development.

    I do sympathize with those individuals in same gender relationships, who have a strong love for each other, who wish to express their love by being married. However, I don’t think they have a strong enough case to support their view that they have a right to get married just because they love that person.

  • CMDK

    I suppose that means you believe we should ban, or lean towards discouraging single parent households then, since “evidence” shows a child would develop better in a home with a man and women, or perhaps you are implying that single mothers or fathers are incapable of raising children to their full potential as individuals? Either way its ridiculous to say that a relationship consisting of two men or two women can’t properly raise a child. In fact studies have shown that children of same sex couples are actually more nurturing toward their peers, are more accepting of diversity, and tend to be less aggressive….hardly qualities to sneer at. As for comparing same-sex couples to perverted older men who would target a CHILD to call their wife is absurd and completely unrelated. The other examples you have given are based primarily in religion, and correct me if I’m wrong but we are supposed to live in a democracy, not a theocracy. It is in fact a civil rights issue because the entire point of the case is to move toward acceptance. Of course a homosexual can marry someone of the opposite sex, but by denying them their right to marry someone PURELY on the basis of gender (for no other reason whatsoever) is discrimination. You are denying someone their right to happiness maybe because you yourself are a little uncomfortable with the idea or YOUR beliefs tells you it’s wrong. How about we give another example of how people have been discriminated against up until recently mostly due to others beliefs, and see how it would fit into your argument.

    Interracial couples – Before 1967 it DID matter whether or not you were in a relationship as a caucasian, black, hispanic, etc., looking to get married. Yet according to your argument it would not be discrimination to not allow people of different races to wed because they do indeed have the right to marry under the law, it just can’t be someone of a different skin color…but that of course is alright because they do technically have the right to marry? I’m sorry but I’m afraid I don’t see how this is not a violation of civil rights, in my opinion these two examples are extremely similar in nature.

  • Alan McCornick


    With all due respect…not a civil rights issue? The California Supreme Court disagrees with you. So does the states Attorney General and countless others with a background in constitutional law.

    Gays have the right to marry heterosexually? Thats like saying Muslims have the right to worship God in their own way as long as they pray to Jesus.

    How do you see a parallel between two consenting adults marrying and an adult marrying a child? The issue is since two consenting adults have the right to marry heterosexually, two consenting adults should have the same right to marry homosexually. The only people who oppose this do so for religious reasons. The United States is, however, not a theocracy.

    You do not have your facts right when you suggest gay people dont provide the ideal circumstance for raising children. What an insult to the one-third of American lesbians with children! There is absolutely no correlation between ones sexuality and ones ability to nurture a child.

    Children learn some things from men and other things from women, you say? Even if that were true, you would be missing the obvious fact that children live in society. If neither parent is good at math, or dancing, or argumentation, or cooking, its very likely a neighbor or an aunt or uncle may be helpful. We pick up information in all sorts of places. And children of gays and lesbians have the same chance of having grandparents as other children.

    You dont think gay people have a case? Isnt the question whether you have a case for taking away a right that the Supreme Court said was ours as citizens of California?

  • sfresident

    “That is because there is a mountain of evidence that shows that boys and girls learn only certain things from men and certain things from women”

    This is frankly bullshit. Please provide links to some sort of peer-reviewed study that. I’m sure that with a “mountain of evidence” it shouldn’t take you very long.

    Homophobic assholes. The world will be a much better place in about 40 years when the vast majority of you fuckers will be dead.