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California court overturns Proposition 8 bar on gay marriage

Federal Judge Vaughn R. Walker issued a landmark decision today by overturning Proposition 8, finding that California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violates the federal constitutional rights of gay people.

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license," Walker wrote. "Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."

"Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional," he wrote.

Walker said the measure violates both the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Walker presided over a trial in San Francisco that lasted two weeks in January and one day in June, and featured witnesses and some of the nation's highest profile attorneys arguing that the ban was unconstitutional. The decision is expected to be made public between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Two gay couples, residents of Berkeley and Burbank, filed suit contending that the ballot measure violated their federal constitutional right to equal protection.

Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment, declares that marriage in California is only between a man and a woman. It was approved by voters by a 52 to 48 percent margin in the November 2008 general election.

Walker's decision is likely to be appealed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. From there, the case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court for the defining legal word on gay marriage rights.

The passage of Proposition 8 put a halt to a five-month window in 2008 when a California Supreme Court decision allowed gay marriage and an estimated 18,000 couples wed.

In Walker's courtroom, the Proposition 8 defense argued that while gays had suffered "shameful" discrimination, voters had "rational" reasons for limiting the definition of marriage to a man and a woman.

Defending the measure, Charles Cooper, a former Reagan Administration U.S. Justice Department official, told Walker: "The pages of history, your honor, are filled with nothing, nothing, your honor, but with this understanding of marriage."

The defense also contended that a fundamental reason for marriage is procreation, and that a body of opinion exists suggesting that children are best off when raised by a mother and a father.

Gay marriage is too new to society to know its impact, Proposition 8 attorneys argued.

"It is not possible to predict with certainty and confidence what that change will beget," said Cooper, who was assisted by attorneys from the conservative Arizona-based religious rights Alliance Defense Fund and Folsom attorney Andrew Pugno, a co-author of the Proposition 8 measure.

The plaintiffs' team of attorneys mounted an aggressive case that Proposition 8 violated fundamental constitutional rights of individuals.

The challengers also spent considerable time building a case that gays continue to feel the sting of historic discrimination and irrational hatred - a contention to strengthen their argument that gays need legal protection against laws that strip them of rights.

(The Bee's Cynthia Hubert contributed to this report.)

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