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In Calif., gay marriage trial opens

US justices halt broadcast of case on ban’s legality

Kristen Perry (left) and Sandra Stier are one of the two couples suing the state of California to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage. Kristen Perry (left) and Sandra Stier are one of the two couples suing the state of California to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage. (Marcio Sanchez/Associated Press)
By Lisa Leff
Associated Press / January 12, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO - One of two lesbians suing California to overturn its ban on same-sex marriage testified yesterday that she and her partner have experienced an emotional roller coaster over the past six years over their plan to wed.

The first trial on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage opened at the federal courthouse here yesterday. The court will determine the legality of California’s Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure banning same-sex marriage.

Two hours before trial was scheduled to start, the US Supreme Court temporarily blocked video of the proceedings from being posted on YouTube.com. It said justices need more time to review that issue and put the order in place at least until tomorrow.

Kristen Perry, 45, said she and her partner rushed to San Francisco in early 2004 to marry when that city opened City Hall to same-sex weddings. Then they were crestfallen when the city - under court order - told them their marriage was invalid, and that it improperly conducted the ceremony before the courts considered the issue. Perry said she wants to marry but the state “isn’t letting me feel happy.’’

Perry and her partner, Sandra Stier, live in Berkeley. Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo of Los Angeles, the other gay plaintiffs in the case, also testified yesterday about their wish to marry.

Among the issues are whether sexual orientation can be changed, how legalizing same-sex marriage affects traditional marriages, and the effect on children of being raised by two mothers or two fathers.

As the trial got underway, Theodore Olson, a former US solicitor general representing the two same-sex couples, quoted the Supreme Court’s own lofty description of matrimony to demonstrate what his clients are being denied.

“In the words of the highest court in the land, marriage is the most important relationship in life and of fundamental importance to all individuals,’’ Olson told a packed courtroom.

Charles Cooper, a lawyer for sponsors of the ban approved by voters in 2008, said in his opening statement that it’s too difficult to know the impact of same-sex marriage on traditional marriage because the practice is still so new. He urged the court to take a wait-and-see approach.

Regardless of the outcome, the case is likely to be appealed to the US Supreme Court, where it ultimately could become a landmark that determines whether Americans have the right to marry someone of the same gender.

Over the weekend, Proposition 8’s sponsors sought to block YouTube broadcasts of the trial. Chief US District Judge Vaughn R. Walker had approved the plan last week, saying the case was appropriate for wide dissemination because it dealt with an issue of wide interest and importance.

Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based gay rights organization, said supporters of same-sex marriage were disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision to bar cameras and called on the court to lift its ban tomorrow.