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A large crowd gathered this morning outside a federal courthouse on Seventh Street in San Francisco, where a three-judge appeals court panel is hearing arguments on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.

The proposition, approved by voters in 2008, banned same-sex marriage in the state, but a federal judge in San Francisco declared the ban unconstitutional earlier this year. That ruling was appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

More than 100 people, mostly opponents of Proposition 8, rallied outside the courthouse prior to oral arguments this morning.

Same-sex marriage supporters carried signs with messages such as “Life feels different when you’re married,” and “We all deserve the freedom to marry.”

A small group of same-sex marriage opponents also showed up, carrying messages including “Ninth Circuit vs. God’s law” and “Homo sex is sin.”

John Lewis, 52, of San Francisco, was among those rallying against Proposition 8.

Lewis and his husband, Stuart Gaffney, are one of some 18,000 same-sex couples who legally wed during a brief window in 2008 between the time the state Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage in May and the November election in which voters passed the ban.

“We were one of the lucky ones who were able to marry in 2008, but California should not be divided between marriage haves and have-nots,” Lewis said.

“Every single loving, committed couple should have the freedom to marry the person they choose,” he said.

The Proposition 8 opponents, who got backing via phone this morning from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, broke into song at one point, singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Across the street, the handful of same-sex marriage opponents amplified their message with a bullhorn, calling the larger group “sinners.”

Mark Steven, 53, of Los Angeles, said he traveled to San Francisco with several people from a non-denominational Christian group called the Bible Believers to speak out against same-sex marriage.

“We’re here to support the law of God, number one, as written in the Ten Commandments,” Steven said. “Number two, we’re here to back up the will of the people that voted…yes on Proposition 8.”

Proposition 8’s sponsors are appealing U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s August ruling striking down the same-sex marriage ban. Walker ruled that the initiative violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal treatment.

A three-judge panel is hearing arguments from both sides this morning and will be asked to decide among the dueling definitions of marriage and the right to marry.

The judges, who were selected randomly, are Stephen Reinhardt, a leading liberal on the court appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980; Michael Hawkins, a moderate appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994; and Randy Smith, a conservative named by President George W. Bush in 2007.

Their decision will be issued in writing at a later date. The losing side is expected to appeal to an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit and to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel is devoting an unusually long two-hour session to the arguments today.

Ari Burack/Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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