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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Trial on California’s Prop 8 Opens

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Opening arguments concluded Monday in the challenge to California's Proposition 8, with those challenging the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage saying the case is "about marriage and equality," while the law's defender said it "promoted procreation."

"The facts will show that the United States Supreme Court said marriage is a right that isn't limited to people of opposite sex and that the relationship between individuals in marriage is valuable and withholding it doesn't make sense," said Theodore Olson, attorney for plaintiffs Kristin Perry, Sandra Stier, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo. According to their federal complaint, Perry and Stier and Katami and Zarrillo are same-sex couples in committed relationships who were denied California marriage licenses after Proposition 8 was approved in November 2008.

"This case is about marriage and equality. The plaintiffs were denied the right to marry and be equal under the law," said Olson, who argued that the state's denial of marriage licenses violated the couples' rights to "pursuit of happiness, privacy, association and intimate choice."

Olson also said that Proposition 8 "classifies" same-sex couples as "inferior" by withholding the right to marriage and "relegates them to second class citizenship."

"By denying the right to marry, Proposition 8 adds yet another chapter to a long history of discrimination at the hands of their fellow citizens and government," Olson said.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who will preside over the proceedings in the coming weeks, questioned Olson about the difference between marriage and domestic partnerships, also known as civil unions, which purport to grant same-sex couples the same fundamental rights and benefits as state-sanctioned marriage.

Olson argued that domestic partnerships "inflict badges of inferiority," making marriage "akin to a business venture, not a loving union. Government-sponsored, societal stigmatization, experts will show, increases the likelihood that same-sex couples will experience harassment and discrimination," Olson said.

"What if California got out of the business of marriage and made everyone a domestic partnership? Wouldn't that solve the problem?" Walker said.

"That will never happen," Olson said. "The people of California will never get out of the business of marriage."

Olson said his expert wtinesses - professors, psychologists, historians and sociologists "who have studied marriage" - will show that banning same-sex marriage is akin to past restrictions on marriage, including "restrictions on race and the inequality of women."

Pointing to Virginia's original ban on biracial marriage, he said, "If President Obama's mother and father had tried to get married in Virginia, it would have been against the law."

Charles Cooper, attorney for the proponents of Proposition 8, said racial restrictions on marriage "are of an entirely different nature," arguing that marriage as defined as between a man and a woman does not change the institution of marriage "but protects it and promotes procreation."

When Walker asked if procreation is marriage's sole purpose, Cooper responded, "It is central and the basis of marriage across cultures and societies throughout history. It is a pro-child institution."

"What about companionship and support, the other aspects of marriage that aren't about procreation?"Walker asked. Cooper responded that stable unions and the nurturing of children will inevitably be harmed if the institution of marriage "is changed to provide couples with personal fulfillment."

Cooper said that the will of California voters should stand.

"Only the political process, not you, Judge Walker, or the Supreme Court, are here to reflect the attitudes of the people. That's what they have ballot booths for."

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