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Arguments begin in federal Prop. 8 trial

January 11, 2010 | 11:35 am

As an unprecedented federal trial on marriage rights got underway today, challengers of Proposition 8 called marriage "one of the most vital personal rights," while a lawyer defending California's ban on same-sex marriage declared same-sex matrimony a risky and novel "experiment."

Theodore Olson, an attorney for two same-sex couples challenging Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure approved by California voters, told the court that marriage was "central to life in America."

"It's the building block of family, neighborhood and community in our society," Olson said in the packed San Francisco courtroom of U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker.

But Charles Cooper, representing proponents of the ban, said same-sex marriage was too new and too rare to know what consequences it may have.

"People of California are entitled to await the results of that experiment … before they make a fundamental change and alteration in the traditional definition of marriage."

The case, Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, is expected to become a landmark case that eventually will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both sides have hired leading legal advocates with lots of experience before the high court.

Walker, a Republican appointee known for independence, will decide whether Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage violates U.S. constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. Walker's pretrial rulings have tended to favor supporters of same-sex marriage.

Unlike other court cases about marriage rights, the trial before Walker will involve weeks of testimony on wide-ranging issues.

"Actually putting witnesses on the stand has never been done before in any lawsuit claiming a right to same-sex marriage," said Proposition 8 campaign attorney Andy Pugno. "So this is a very out-of-the-ordinary approach."

-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco federal court

More background on the case here.

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