SAN FRANCISCO — A federal trial over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage opened in San Francisco on Monday, with lawyers and witnesses debating the meaning of marriage and sexual orientation, and gay couples testifying about the humiliation of being denied matrimony.
The long-anticipated case moved along briskly with sometimes tearful testimony from two gay couples who brought the lawsuit to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage. A Harvard historian testified on the roots of marriage.
In the trial, gay rights advocates are seeking to overturn Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure banning same-sex marriage in California. It is the first federal trial on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. The suit is expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court as a landmark case.
Two legal giants — former Solicitor General Theodore Olson and attorney David Boies, who were on opposing sides in the high court case that gave George W. Bush the presidency — have joined forces with the intent to eventually persuade the Supreme Court to overturn marriage bans.
Olson, who has been known for his conservative views, said in his opening statement that marriage was "one of the most vital personal rights" and a "basic civil right." Withholding it from gays and lesbians "doesn't make sense," he said.
Charles Cooper, who is representing the Proposition 8 campaign and who also has argued many cases before the Supreme Court, said a limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples has "prevailed in virtually every society since early history."
The Supreme Court ordered a halt to the planned video coverage of the trial, apparently concerned witnesses opposed to gay marriage could face harassment if they were shown on YouTube. The order said the justices need more time to review the issue and said the order would remain in effect at least until Wednesday.