SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Two same-sex couples challenging California's Proposition 8 ban of gay and lesbian marriage spoke of the discrimination they say they experienced as a result of their sexual orientation during Monday's opening testimony in their fight against the voter-approved initiative. "I just want to marry the person I choose," said plaintiff Sandra Stier.
Plaintiff Paul Katami was nearly in tears as he described the difficulty of having to defend his relationship of 9 years with partner Jeffrey Zarrillo. He recalled for his attorney David Boies the day when a woman with a "Yes on 8" bumper sticker told him "marriage isn't for you people."
Looking out at a courtroom filled with Proposition 8 opponents, including actor/director Rob Reiner, Katami said, "Unless you've experienced that moment, regardless of how proud you are, you still feel ashamed. I shouldn't have to feel ashamed. Being gay doesn't make me less American or less of a patriot. But in that moment being gay means I've been relegated to a corner."
Katami, 37, said that his objection to the woman's bumper sticker was its depiction of a parent and a child that "looked like they were connected." For Katami, this demonstrated Proposition 8 supporters' belief that children require protection from same-sex couples and marriage. "It's unfair and not very just," Katami said. " What are you protecting children from? The fact that certain people exist?"
Attorneys for the opponents of Proposition 8 showed several campaign videos addressing the issue of "protecting children and restoring marriage." Katami said he found the videos' message "insulting," as they implied that same-sex marriage was a "threat" from which children need to be protected.
"That always seems to be the punch line of the message - protect our children."
Both Katami and his partner Zarrillo testified that though they one day hoped to start a family, neither felt they could do so without solidifying their union through marriage.
"I would like to be able to partake in family gatherings as a married individual and be able to stand together as a family," Zarrillo said. "Paul is the love of my life. I love him more than myself. I would put his needs before my own, be with him in sickness and in health, just like in marriage vows. I would like nothing more than to marry him."
For Zarrillo, a domestic partnership "would relegate me to second-class citizenship. That's not enough. It's giving me part of the pie but not the whole thing. We hold marriage in such high regard. A domestic partnership doesn't give due respect to the relationship we've had for nine years. Only marriage can do that."
Plaintiffs Katami, Zarrillo, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier are represented by lead attorneys Theodore Olson and Theodore Boutrous with Gibson Dunn of Los Angeles.
Attorneys for Proposition 8 proponents include David Thompson and Charles Cooper with Cooper and Kirk of Washington, D.C.