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Prop 8 federal trial update
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Prop 8 federal trial update

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

On December 16, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said he expects to keep a trial challenging California's ban on same-sex marriage on track for January 11, 2010. Walker will preside over a no-jury trial, expected to last several weeks, of a lawsuit in which two same-sex couples claim the marriage ban violates their federal constitutional rights.

California voters enacted the prohibition in 2008. The ban, known as Proposition 8, amended the state Constitution and made same-sex marriage illegal. The years-long series of court cases based on the issue came to an end on May 26 when California Supreme Court ruled that voters, in approving Prop. 8, had the power to amend the state document to prohibit same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 added the words "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California" to the state Constitution.

Kristen Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkley and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillio of Burbank filed the federal lawsuit in May. The Gay and Lesbian couples' high-profile attorneys, Theodore Olson and David Boise, will argue that Proposition 8 violates their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

"We're ready," Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general, said at a news conference following the December 16 pretrial hearing. "It's obvious that our opponents and the judge are very well-prepared."

The lawsuit has garnered the public's attention, in that it takes a new tack in legal battles over Gay marriage by centering on the U.S. Constitution. In the past, the merits of same-sex marriage have been argued as a separation between church and state or on the grounds of morality. Olson and Boise are saying Gay marriage is a 14th Amendment issue, and seek to prove that Prop. 8 discriminates unconstitutionally on the basis of sexual orientation and gender.

In other developments, Judge Walker has said he would allow television cameras (for the first time) into the San Francisco-based courtroom. On December 17, the Judicial Council of the Ninth U.S. District Court of Appeals said it would allow experimental use of cameras throughout the nine-state circuit. Walker said he in not opposed to TV coverage of the lawsuit challenging California's same-sex marriage ban.

Olson and Boise told Walker they would not object to television coverage. But sponsors for Prop. 8 protested that allowing cameras was contrary to national court policy and a potential threat to trial participants. The appeals court's new policy does not require Judge Walker to obtain consent from both sides for television coverage.

Appeal court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said the idea is to improve "public understanding of our judicial process and enhance confidence in the rule of law."

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