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Witness argues against same-sex marriage as Prop. 8 trial testimony concludes

January 27, 2010 | 12:37 pm

A prominent opponent of same-sex marriage testified at a federal trial today that he believes the rights of gays and lesbians should take "second place" to the institution of marriage.

"With some anguish," David Blankenhorn testified, "I would choose children's collective needs over the rights of same-sex couples."

Blankenhorn, who founded and heads a think tank devoted to marriage and family issues, was one of two witnesses called by defenders of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that reinstated a California ban on same-sex marriage.

No more witnesses are expected to testify in the trial that began 2½ weeks ago. The court gave both sides until Feb. 26 to submit briefs pointing to the evidence that buttressed their views, which will be followed by closing arguments at an as yet uncertain date.

Blankenhorn testified that same-sex marriage benefits gay couples and their children, but weakens the institution of marriage. He said he reconciled these "goods in conflict" by embracing domestic partnerships and civil unions for gays.

Under cross-examination today, Blankenhorn testified that he agreed that same-sex marriage might reduce prejudice and hate crimes against homosexuals, lead to higher living standards for same-sex couples and probably reduce the number of gays who marry members of the opposite sex.

Blankenhorn, who is not affiliated with a college or university, sparred frequently with David Boies, one of the nation's top litigators representing two same-sex couples challenging the federal constitutionality of Proposition 8.

Sometimes seething, sometimes aggrieved, Blankenhorn objected to having to answer questions with a simple "yes," " no" or "I don't know." At times the dueling was comic, producing laughter from the courtroom and even from U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who is presiding over the trial.

Blankenhorn identified three principles of marriage, saying it involves opposite-sex people, is limited to two people and includes a sexual relationship.

Boies pointed out that much of the world has practiced polygamy in the past, that some societies practiced homosexual marriage and that some marriages, such as those of prisoners, are never consummated by sexual intercourse.

Blankenhorn, however, insisted that polygamy satisfied the principles of marriage because it involves a man who marries one woman at a time.

Boies asked whether Blankenhorn was testifying that a man with five wives is consistent with his rule that marriage involves two people.

Blankenhorn said yes, adding that the marriages did not occur at the same time, and "each marriage is distinct."

Walker thanked the lawyers at the close of the session for the "fascinating" trial and praised their legal skills and acumen.

-- Maura Dolan at the San Francisco federal courthouse