Testimony Ends In California's Gay Marriage Trial
ARI SHAPIRO, host:
In California, both sides have now made their case in the federal trial challenging Proposition 8. Thats the states ban on same sex marriage. As Scott Shafer of member station KQED reports, the trial has explored much more than just the legality of a single ballot measure.
SCOTT SHAFER: As the trial got underway in San Francisco two and a half weeks ago, Paul Katami, one of four people hoping to get Proposition 8 overturned, summed up the case this way.
Mr. PAUL KATAMI: We want to be married. We have the right to be married. Why can't we be married?
SHAFER: This is the first trial challenging a state gay marriage ban in a federal court based on the U.S. Constitution. And to make their case, the plaintiffs have an all-star legal team, including nationally known conservative Republican lawyer Theodore Olson.
Mr. THEODORE OLSON (Lawyer): Being denied the right to marry the person of ones choice is being relegated to a second class citizenship in America.
SHAFER: Over the course of this non-jury trial, attorneys fighting Prop 8 have put on a virtual seminar, calling witnesses from Harvard, Yale and Stanford to testify about the meaning of marriage, the history of discrimination against gays and lesbians, and how their rights have been targeted at the ballot box with hateful messages rooted in stereotypes.
But Andy Pugno with the legal team defending Prop 8 says all of that may be interesting but its just not relevant to the case at hand.
Mr. ANDY PUGNO: Its not the role of the courts and its not proper for judges to substitute their own views on these political questions for the judgment of the people. And thats really what this case boils down to, is who gets to decide.
SHAFER: Pugno says the voters had a rational reason for limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
Mr. PUGNO: The plaintiffs have a really tough burden. They need to prove that the people acted irrationally with no good reason when they voted to continue and preserve the traditional definition of marriage.
SHAFER: But attorneys arguing for the plaintiffs say allowing them to marry harms no one. And even a star witness for the defense of the ballot measure conceded under oath that allowing gay people to marry would benefit those couples and their children.
The trial also explored how conservative church groups spread messages warning voters that pedophiles and polygamists were hoping to defeat Prop 8. The Yes on 8 denied crafting those messages. But attorney David Boies says the campaign paid to disseminate them over the Internet.
Mr. DAVID BOIES (Attorney): What was at work was a religious divide based on prejudice and stereotypes.
SHAFER: Attorneys hoping to have Prop 8 struck down called more than a dozen witnesses, including one of the official proponents of Prop 8, who was questioned about his warning that the gay agenda includes legalizing sex with children. Yes on 8 attorney Andy Pugno likened to a religious witch hunt.
Mr. PUGNO: And this is really a first. You are witnessing history, that somebody who supported an initiative is being put on the stand like the Inquisition and questioned about his political beliefs.
SHAFER: Opponents of Prop 8 are trying to convince District Court Judge Vaughn Walker that sexual orientation deserves the same level of protection given to race, gender and religion. But law professor David Levine of U.C. Hastings Law School in San Francisco says that would be a legal reach, one that could easily be overturned.
Professor DAVID LEVINE (U.C. Hastings Law School): If instead Judge Walker were to write an opinion that was narrowly focused on the facts around Proposition 8, its harder to get that overturned on appeal.
SHAFER: Of course, thats getting ahead of things. The judge is ordering a time out so he can review all the evidence before scheduling closing arguments in the trial, probably in late March or April.
For NPR News, Im Scott Shafer in San Francisco.
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