Gay Rights Groups Seek Overturn of California's Proposition 8

Both sides claim history is on their side in first federal gay marriage trial.

ByABC News
January 11, 2010, 12:06 PM

Jan. 11. 2010— -- The first federal trial to determine if the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from outlawing gay marriage began Monday in San Francisco -- with emotional testimony from two gay men who, their lawyers argued, had been rendered "inferior and unequal" in the eyes of the law.

Some of the most influential constitutional lawyers in America are involved in the case, which puts Proposition 8, the California ban on same-sex marriage, on trial and will likely set the stage for a fight in the U.S. Supreme Court that could determine whether or not gay marriage will be recognized everywhere in the United States.

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks and feature testimony from historians, psychologists and legal scholars, began with tear-filled testimony from plaintiffs Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami, two California men who have had a relationship for nine years.

"That's not enough," Zarillo, 36, told a packed courtroom when asked if gays should be content with domestic partnerships. "It's giving me part of the pie, but not the whole thing."

Forty states have laws banning same-sex marriage, and in their opening statements Monday in San Francisco, lawyers defending and opposing the state's ban each claimed history was on their side.

Lawyers for gay rights groups described legalizing same-sex marriage as the next chapter in the civil rights movement. They said it was akin to ending laws that stopped whites and blacks from marrying.

Lawyers defending the ban, backed by a broad coalition of conservative religious groups, argued that the ban is not discriminatory but simply codifies an historic understanding of what constitutes marriage.

"This case is about marriage and equality. The plaintiffs are being denied both the right to marry and equality under the law," said attorney Theodore Olson, representing Zarillo and Katami, a lesbian couple, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier and a gay rights group, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the lawsuit.

Interrupted by District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker during his opening statement and asked why the courts should be involved in a debate that was being handled by both the legislature and directly by voters, Olsen said, "We wouldn't need a Constitution if we left everything to the political process."