The first federal case to challenge the
constitutionality of a gay marriage ban began with emotional
testimony in San Francisco Monday.
Ted Olson, lawyer for the plaintiffs, a
gay and a lesbian couple who have been denied the right to marry in
California because of Proposition 8, the gay marriage ban approved by
voters in 2008, described marriage as “a basic civil right” in
his opening statement.
“As the witnesses in this case will
elaborate, marriage is central to life in America. It promotes
mental, physical and emotional health and the economic strength and
stability of those who enter into a marital union,” he said.
“Proposition 8 ended the dream of
marriage, the most important relation in life, for the plaintiffs and
hundreds of thousands of Californians.”
“Proponents of Proposition 8 have
insisted that the persons they would foreclose from the institution
of marriage have suffered no harm because they have been given the
opportunity to form something called a 'domestic partnership'.”
“That is a cruel fiction,” he
Outside the courtroom, activists
gathered. About a dozen proponents of Proposition 8 were greatly
outnumbered by gay marriage supporters, who chanted, held signs and
First to take the stand was Jeffrey
Zarrillo, 36, who testified he wants to marry his partner of nearly
nine years, Paul Katami.
“He is the love of my life. I love
him probably more than I love myself. I would do anything for him,”
Zarrillo said as he held back tears.
Zarrillo said a domestic partnership
made him a third class citizen: “It's giving me part of the pie,
but not the whole thing.”
Zarrillo's partner, Paul Katami, 37,
testified that marriage would allow “us access to the language.
Being able to call him my husband is so definitive … We both
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker
announced at the start of the trial that the Supreme Court was
reviewing an application submitted by proponents of Proposition 8
that prevents broadcast of the proceedings. The high court said it
would make a final ruling on Wednesday. Walker called the
development “highly unfortunate.”
Sandra Stiers, 47, testified she was
married to a man for 12 years without knowing she was a lesbian.
“At that time I did not know I was a
lesbian. I had a difficult relationship, but it started with the
best intentions. Divorced 1999,” she said.
“I met Chris [Perry] in 1996. I was
teaching a computer class and she was a student in my class. We
later became coworkers and fast friends. I began to realize my
feelings for her were unique, and taking over my thoughts. I was
falling in love with her. I realized this in 1999. My marriage was
troubled on many fronts. The end of my marriage was precipitated by
my unhappiness and my husband's alcoholism. My sexual orientation
had nothing to do with the divorce.”
“I want to marry Sandy [Stiers],”
Perry answered to the question, “Why are you a plaintiff in this
“I want the discrimination to end and
a more joyful part of our life to begin. Growing up as a lesbian you
never let yourself want it because everyone tells you you can't have
it. I think what it means is your relationship is honored. People
know what your relationship is. The state isn't letting me feel
happy. The state isn't allowing me to feel my whole potential.”
Lawyers arguing in support of
Proposition 8 said monogamous heterosexual marriage was universally
accepted. But Harvard professor Nancy Cott, an expert in the history
of marriage in the United States, disagreed, testifying ancient Jews
The trial continues Tuesday and is
expected to last 3 weeks.