As a federal trial on same-sex marriage nears next week’s closing arguments in San Francisco, lawyers for two couples challenging the measure said today they’re confident they’ve proved their case.
The case in the court of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is the nation’s first federal trial on a U.S. constitutional challenge to a state law barring gay and lesbian marriage.
Two same-sex couples claim that California’s ban, enacted by voters as Proposition 8 in 2008, violates their federal constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
Walker heard testimony in the nonjury trial in January and will hear five hours of closing arguments on Wednesday. He is expected to issue a ruling within weeks of the hearing.
David Boies, a lawyer for the couples, said in a telephone news conference today, “The trial demonstrated there simply wasn’t any dispute as to the fundamental issues.”
Boies maintained the plaintiffs’ witnesses and evidence proved the three basic points they set out to show at the trial.
Those points, he said, are that “Marriage is a fundamental right; that prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from marrying has harmed them and the children they are raising; and that there is no harm to heterosexual marriage from allowing gays and lesbians to marry.”
A spokesman for the sponsors of Proposition 8 and their campaign committee, ProtectMarriage.com, was not immediately available for comment.
But when the trial testimony ended in January, one of the sponsors’ lawyers, Andrew Pugno, said the Proposition 8 defenders needed only to prove that voters had a rational basis for approving the measure in November 2008.
“The rational reason is that the best thing for children is to have both a mother and a father,” Pugno said.
But Boies said of same-sex marriage bans, “This is simply the last area in our country in which we have state-sponsored discrimination.”
He and the plaintiffs’ other lead attorney, former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, cited a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases that they said showed that marriage is a “fundamental and vital right.”
Those rulings include a 1967 decision that overturned an interracial marriage ban in Virginia and another opinion that upheld the right of prisoners to marry.
But Proposition 8 sponsors argued in papers filed in February that same-sex relationships cannot be “shoehorned into the fundamental right to marry that has been recognized by the Supreme Court.”
Their lawyers wrote, “The Supreme Court has never so much as hinted that the fundamental right to marry extends beyond opposite-sex unions.”
Proposition 8, enacted by a 52 percent majority of voters as an amendment to the state Constitution, established that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
It overturned a ruling in which the California Supreme Court earlier in 2008 held there is a state constitutional right to gay and lesbian marriage.
The lawsuit by Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Burbank argues that their federal constitutional claims override the state constitutional amendment.
Walker’s ruling in the case is certain to be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and may reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeals process could take two years.
Boies and Olson said that even though the membership of the high court has changed since the lawsuit was filed a year ago, they remain optimistic that a majority of justices would see their side if the case gets to that court.
Boies said, “We’re not taking any justice for granted and we’re not giving up on any justice.”