Gay Marriage Ban Goes On Trial In California
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Today in San Francisco, we're expecting that a federal judge will begin to hear arguments on whether California's ban on same-sex marriages violates the U.S. constitution. The case is attracting national attention, and not only because it will be the first federal trial ever broadcast over YouTube. It also has the potential to be a landmark case. Here's Rob Schmitz of member station KQED.
ROB SCHMITZ: For years, California has played a key role in the national debate over gay marriage. Voters here banned same-sex marriage a decade ago. The courts overturned the ban, and in November of 2008, Californians narrowly voted to effectively ban it again. Which brings us to today, the first day of a federal trial over the matter. Samantha Sabarzo(ph) isn't happy.
SAMANTHA SABARZO: It's really unfortunate that we have to waste resources through court hearings and, you know, challenges when the people have spoken.
SCHMITZ: Sabarzo volunteered to help pass Proposition 8, the ballot measure that amended the state constitution to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. It passed with 52 percent of the vote.
SABARZO: People have voted. Their vote counts. People want traditional marriage and understand the important of traditional marriage.
SCHMITZ: But Paul Katami thinks California's definition of marriage is a violation of his rights. Katami and his partner Jeffrey Zarrillo want to get married. The two are plaintiffs in the federal case against Proposition 8.
PAUL KATAMI: The law protects us as it protects everyone else, and that protection includes our right to marry and our pursuit of happiness together.
SCHMITZ: This case rests on the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. That was written to extend equal rights to African-Americans following the Civil War. The ruling will likely be appealed to the Ninth Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, the judge made the controversial decision to allow the proceedings to be broadcast on YouTube.
DAVID LEVINE: This is like going to Disneyland for legal scholars.
SCHMITZ: David Levine is a professor at the U.C. Hastings College of the Law. He says it's an exciting case, not only because it has the potential to resolve such a heated national debate, but also because of the legal questions it raises.
LEVINE: Is it appropriate for the court to step in and to say, ok, we're going to jump forward on this cultural unfolding and we're going to say this is what the rule has to be? Or are the courts, especially federal courts, going to step back and say this is for the states and the democratic processes within those states to work out?
SCHMITZ: One factor contributing to the hype of this case is the unusual makeup of the legal team representing the plaintiffs: former solicitor general Ted Olson and trial lawyer David Boies. The two were rivals who represented George W. Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential dispute. Ted Olson is excited.
TED OLSON: I think this is one of the most important civil rights cases that this country has faced in a long, long time.
SCHMITZ: The bipartisan duo of Olson and Boies fighting together for same-sex marriage is exciting for many gay Americans. Still, some gay advocacy and civil rights groups have called the case premature. These groups have been steadily working for two decades with a calculated plan of making same-sex marriage legal in states where success seemed likely, and they're nervous with the idea of rolling the dice on what they see as a very conservative Supreme Court. Ted Olson disagrees.
OLSON: The lesson of history is that civil rights are won by people who stand up and fight for them and not people who sit down and quietly wait for things to happen.
SCHMITZ: The federal trial could take weeks. A decision is expected by summer. For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz in Los Angeles.
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