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Prop. 8 trial judge has questions for attorneys as closing arguments begin

June 16, 2010 |  1:23 pm
http://cache.boston.com/resize/bonzai-fba/Globe_Photo/2008/11/09/1226287322_8230/539w.jpgFor two hours Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker questioned anti-Prop. 8 attorneys seeking to invalidate the ballot measure and the ban on same-sex marriage.

Did he have to rule, he asked, that voters in favor of the proposition had “discriminatory motives” when they voted to amend the state Constitution and prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying? Isn’t domestic partnership sufficient for same-sex couples who want to spend their lives together?

And would the case before him now be different if gay marriage hadn’t been legal in California for five months, if an estimated 18,000 couples hadn’t legally married and remain legally married today?

Theodore Olson, who represents the gay and lesbian couples suing for the right to wed, gave a passionate closing argument in favor of overturning the measure and spoke about the importance of marriage in society.

He showed an emotional video from the 2-1/2 weeks of testimony earlier this year of the four plaintiffs talking about how painful it is to be denied what they call a fundamental right and what it would mean to them to be able to marry their long-term partners.

Said Kris Perry, who lives in Berkeley with Sandy Stier, her partner of more than a decade: “There is something so humiliating about everybody knowing you want to make that decision [to marry] and you don’t get to. It’s hard to face the people at work.… I have to still find a way to feel OK and not take every bit of discriminatory behavior against me personally.”

Olson also played back video of the Proposition 8 proponents’ chief witness, David Blankenhorn, telling the court that he believes “adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.”

Olson said he was “stricken” by Blankenhorn’s testimony, his admission “on the witness stand that same-sex marriage would yield numerous social advantages” and his declaration that “we will be more American the day we permit same-sex marriage. That is the proponent’s principal witness.”

But the morning session wasn’t all serious. When Walker welcomed the attorneys back to the courtroom, he noted that he wasn’t happy that opening statements in the case began in January but closing arguments were delayed until Wednesday.

“I was hoping that we could get this case in before present,” he said. “But it may be appropriate that the case is coming to closing arguments now. June is, after all, the month for weddings.”

Proposition 8 supporters will give their closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.

-- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco federal court

Photo: L.A. Times file