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2:28 PM: A federal trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 began in San Francisco today with one of the first witnesses, a gay man, testifying that he found campaign materials for the measure insulting, demeaning and hurtful.

The nonjury trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is the first federal trial in the nation on a ban on same-sex marriage.

California’s ban was enacted by state voters in 2008 as Proposition 8, an initiative that amended the state constitution to require marriage to be between a man and a woman.
One of the first witnesses this morning was Paul Katami, of Burbank, who is one of four plaintiffs who sued in May to challenge the measure.

He told Walker that he found campaign materials that urged voters to “protect our children” to be “unfair and unjust.”

The campaign materials were displayed on screens in Walker’s crowded Federal Building courtroom by attorney David Boies.

Boies showed another campaign video that ended in the words, “Stand up for righteousness. Vote YES on Prop 8” and asked Katami how the ad had made him feel.
Katami said the ad made him angry 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.

The other plaintiffs in the case are Katami’s partner, Jeffrey Zarrillo, and a lesbian couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, of Berkeley.

Their lawsuit claims Proposition 8 violates their federal constitutional rights to equal protection and due process by denying them the right to marry.

Other witnesses in the two-week trial will be the official sponsors of Proposition 8 and an array of expert witnesses to be called by both sides to testify on issues such as the historical meaning of marriage, the economic benefit of marriage and whether children fare better when their parents are a heterosexual married couple.

Walker is expected to issue a written ruling sometime after the close of the trial. The outcome is certain to be appealed eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The proceedings began this morning with brief opening statements in which attorneys on both 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 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 plaintiffs in the current lawsuit.

Cooper argued that barring same-sex marriage is 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 also contended that gays and lesbians were not the target of ill will or discriminatory intent in the Proposition 8 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.”

11:59 AM: The federal trial on the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban began in San Francisco this morning, with attorneys for both sides offering contrasting views on the institution of marriage.

A lawyer for two same-sex couples who want to marry opened the trial this morning by telling a judge, “Marriage is the most important relation in life.”

Attorney Theodore Olson argued that California’s same-sex marriage ban “stigmatizes gays and lesbians and says ‘Your relationship is not the same'” as those of heterosexual couples.

Today was the start of a two-week trial on a lawsuit in which a lesbian couple from Berkeley and a gay couple from Burbank claim that California’s ban, enacted by voters as Proposition 8, violates their federal constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker will decide the case without a jury. The outcome is certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general now acting as a private lawyer, noted to the judge that his opening remark on the importance of marriage was a quotation of the Supreme Court’s words in a different case.

Charles Cooper, a lawyer for the sponsors of Proposition 8, argued a different view of marriage, telling the judge that it is “a pro-child social institution.”

Cooper said restricting marriage to opposite-sex unions is justified because the basic purpose of marriage is “to promote naturally procreative sexual activity in a stable and enduring relationship” that will nurture children.

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

Cooper said, “The people of California are entitled to wait before they make a fundamental change and alteration” in traditional marriage.

The trial is the nation’s first on whether a ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

Witnesses in the next two weeks will include the four plaintiffs and a array of experts called to the stand by both sides to testify about the historical definition of marriage, its economic effects and whether children fare better in marriages between a man and a woman.

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 halted the video coverage until at least Wednesday while it considers whether to permit it.

Walker said at the start of the trial that he was awaiting the guidance of the high court.

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.”

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

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  • Wil

    Anyone want to sign my petition for a ballot measure to stop people on contraception from marrying? Based on these arguments, anyone who’s had a vasectomy should lose the right to marry.

  • bloomsm

    Much as I love civil rights, something being “hurtful” and “insulting” is not going to be enough to overturn Prop 8. I hope they have better than this lined up.