The federal trial on the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban began in San Francisco this morning, with attorneys for both sides offering contrasting views on the institution of marriage.
A lawyer for two same-sex couples who want to marry opened the trial this morning by telling a judge, "Marriage is the most important relation in life."
Attorney Theodore Olson argued that California's same-sex marriage ban "stigmatizes gays and lesbians and says 'Your relationship is not the same'" as those of heterosexual couples.
Today was the start of a two-week trial on a lawsuit in which a lesbian couple from Berkeley and a gay couple from Burbank claim that California's ban, enacted by voters as Proposition 8, violates their federal constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker will decide the case without a jury. The outcome is certain to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general now acting as a private lawyer, noted to the judge that his opening remark on the importance of marriage was a quotation of the Supreme Court's words in a different case.
Charles Cooper, a lawyer for the sponsors of Proposition 8, argued a different view of marriage, telling the judge that it is "a pro-child social institution."
Cooper said restricting marriage to opposite-sex unions is justified because the basic purpose of marriage is "to promote naturally procreative sexual activity in a stable and enduring relationship" that will nurture children.
When asked by Walker whether same-sex marriage would harm traditional marriage, Cooper said the long-term outcome of a change could only be predicted, but argued that a change would not be worth the risk of destabilizing the traditional institution.
Cooper said, "The people of California are entitled to wait before they make a fundamental change and alteration" in traditional marriage.
The trial is the nation's first on whether a ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.
Witnesses in the next two weeks will include the four plaintiffs and a array of experts called to the stand by both sides to testify about the historical definition of marriage, its economic effects and whether children fare better in marriages between a man and a woman.
The proceedings got under way shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court this morning blocked the planned YouTube broadcast of the trial as authorized by Walker. The court said in a brief order that the stay will remain in effect until Wednesday while the court gives further consideration to an appeal in which the sponsors of Proposition 8 are seeking to prevent the
Walker is awaiting the guidance of the high court.
But he said, "In this day and age of technological advance and the importance of the public right of access to the courts, it's very important to have the judiciary work to achieve that access."
The broadcast would have been the first of a federal trial in western states.
Same-sex marriage advocates responded quickly to the order blocking the broadcast.
The group Courage Campaign noted that more than 140,000 people had signed a letter from the group to Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding over the trial, asking that the proceedings be televised.
"While we are disappointed that the Supreme Court is postponing public access to the most important civil rights trial in a generation, the opportunity still remains for the nation's highest court to open up this trial so the American people can witness history," Courage Campaign chair Rick Jacobs said in a prepared statement.
Court officials had planned to allow members of the public to watch the trial remotely at a handful of federal courthouses throughout the country. Today's viewings have been canceled.
Viewings had been scheduled at the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse on Seventh Street in San Francisco and at federal courthouses in Pasadena, Calif., Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash., and Brooklyn, N.Y.
About 100 people gathered early this morning outside the federal courthouse on Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco where the trial is taking place.
Most showed up to oppose the proposition, and carried signs reading "Separate is unequal" and "Marriage is a basic civil right."
A handful of those gathered supported the ban, and one carried a sign reading, "Marriage = One man + One woman."
The trial began at 9 a.m.