Activists Out As Calif. Court Weighs Gay Marriage

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California's ban on gay marriage is in the hands of the state's Supreme Court. In San Francisco Thursday, Proposition 8 was sliced and diced by an array of attorneys who called the measure illegal. But there were also plenty of defenders who said Prop 8 represents the will of the people. The case attracted a crowd of thousands outside the courthouse.


Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. Im Steve Inskeep.


And Im Linda Wertheimer. California's ban on gay marriage is now in the hands of the State Supreme Court. Yesterday in San Francisco, an array of attorneys argued that Proposition 8 was illegal. But there were also plenty of defenders who said Prop. 8 represents the will of the people. As NPRs Carrie Kahn reports, the case attracted a crowd of thousands outside the courthouse.

CARRIE KAHN: Carol Walsh and Winn Minkompf(ph) were in the crowd watching the Supreme Court proceedings on a jumbo TV. They brought folding chairs, but spent most of the time pacing.

Unidentified Woman: We were married here at City Hall, and we spent one of the happiest days of our lives on the steps of that building. And to be out here just months later arguing the validity of our marriage is extremely difficult.

KAHN: While many in the crowd intently watched the three-hour-long hearing, groups of gay marriage opponents and supporters relentlessly screamed at each other.

GROUP: Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right. Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right. Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right.

GROUP: Yes on 8. Yes on 8. Yes, yes, yes on 8. Yes on 8. Yes on 8.

KAHN: Wearing a red T-shirt that read, One Man One Woman Equals Marriage, Cota Tefuna(ph) said she voted for Prop. 8 last election and hopes her vote will be upheld.

Ms. COTA TEFUNA (Supporter of Proposition 8): We all voted, right? And my vote counts. And I don't know why we can't just live with what has been passed.

KAHN: Inside the courtroom, several justices sounded as if they were reluctant to overturn the proposition, which passed with 52 percent of the vote. Gay marriage advocates argued that the state constitution protects the rights of minorities, and the majority cannot take those rights away. But Chief Justice Ronald George said there is precedent in California, where the majority of voters have restricted minority rights.

Chief Justice RONALD GEORGE (California Supreme Court): Maybe that shouldnt be the case, but isnt that the system that we have to live with unless and until its changed?

KAHN: Former Whitewater prosecutor and current dean of Pepperdine Law School Ken Starr defended Prop. 8. He said voters had a right to pass the measure, and that it makes a very simple statement that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Professor KEN STARR (Dean, Pepperdine Law School): We want to restore the traditional definition that has been in place since this state was founded.

KAHN: One point that isnt so simple is the status of the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed last year after the Supreme Court legalized gay unions. That happened in May, before voters passed Prop. 8 in November overturning the courts ruling. Legal experts say its risky business to try and guess which way the justices will rule based on oral arguments. But Vik Amar, a law professor at U.C. Davis, says lawyers for gay marriage were standing on shaky legal ground.

Professor VIK AMAR (University of California Davis): Those who were trying to invalidate Prop. 8 shouldve known that were facing an uphill battle. So I don't think there was anything shocking that came out of the argument. It just kind of reaffirms what we likely will see when the opinion issues.

(Soundbite of shouting)

KAHN: Outside after the hearing, lawyer Andy Puno, who is also defending Prop. 8, said hes confident the court will reject claims that the marriage ban violates the constitution.

Mr. ANDY PUNO (Attorney): Its just not believable to most people, you know, and on a common sense basis. We felt good coming in. We feel good coming out.

(Soundbite of shouting)

KAHN: The huge crowd that had spread across San Franciscos Civic Center Plaza quickly jammed up against police barricades in front of the courthouse. San Francisco State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano tried to scream over the boos of Prop. 8 supporters.

Assemblyman TOM AMMIANO (Democrat, California): We have the vermin here trying to drown us out. You cant drown out a big queen. The legislature, the courts, the governor - all on our side.

KAHN: One of the lead petitioners in the court case, Robin Tyler, said that if the court strikes down the gay marriage ban, expect to see supporters celebrating in the street.

(Soundbite of crowd celebrating)

Assemblyman AMMIANO: But if this Supreme Court does not overturn Prop. 8 entirely, there will be a million of us on the street nationally fighting for our right. We are not going away, and we will not be invisible.

KAHN: The California Supreme Court justices will deliver their ruling within 90 days.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, San Francisco.

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