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      Judge overturns Calif. gay marriage ban

      Shelly Bailes, left, hugs her wife Ellen Pontac outside of the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. A federal judge overturned California's same-sex marriage ban Wednesday in a landmark case that could eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays have a constitutional right to marry in America, according to a person close to the case. / AP Photo
      SAN FRANCISCO (AP) " A federal judge overturned California's same-sex marriage ban Wednesday in a landmark case that could eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays have a constitutional right to marry in America, according to a person close to the case.

      More on the Prop 8 ruling: Proposition 8: Long road to the Supreme Court (CNN) Did Prop 8 Voters Know What They Were Voting For? (Newsweek) Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made his ruling in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples who claimed the voter-approved ban violated their civil rights.

      Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.

      California voters passed the ban as Proposition 8 in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

      Both sides previously said an appeal was certain if Walker did not rule in their favor. The case would go first to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, then the Supreme Court if the high court justices agree to review it.

      Walker heard 13 days of testimony and arguments since January during the first trial in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married.

      The verdict was the second in a federal gay marriage case to come down in recent weeks. A federal judge in Massachusetts decided last month the state's legally married gay couples had been wrongly denied the federal financial benefits of marriage because of a law preventing the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions.

      The plaintiffs in the California case presented 18 witnesses. Academic experts testified about topics ranging from the fitness of gay parents and religious views on homosexuality to the historical meaning of marriage and the political influence of the gay rights movement.

      Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson delivered the closing argument for opponents of the ban. He told Judge Walker that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.

      Olson teamed up with David Boies to argue the case, bringing together the two litigators best known for representing George W. Bush and Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election.

      Defense lawyers called just two witnesses, claiming they did not need to present expert testimony because U.S. Supreme Court precedent was on their side. The attorneys also said gay marriage was an experiment with unknown social consequences that should be left to voters to accept or reject.

      Former U.S. Justice Department lawyer Charles Cooper, who represented the religious and conservative groups that sponsored the ban, said cultures around the world, previous courts and Congress all accepted the "common sense belief that children do best when they are raised by their own mother and father."

      In an unusual move, the original defendants, California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, refused to support Proposition 8 in court.

      That left the work of defending the law to Protect Marriage, the group that successfully sponsored the ballot measure that passed with 52 percent of the vote after the most expensive political campaign on a social issue in U.S. history.

      Currently, same-sex couples can only legally wed in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

      THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Read earlier story below.

      SAN FRANCISCO (AP) " The first word on whether California's same-sex marriage ban passes scrutiny under the U.S. Constitution is scheduled to come down Wednesday when a federal judge issues his ruling in a landmark case.

      Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker has reached a decision on whether to uphold or overturn the voter-approved ban known as Proposition 8 and plans to publish his opinion in the afternoon, court spokeswoman Lynn Fuller said.

      His verdict comes in response to a lawsuit brought by two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco seeking to invalidate the law as an unlawful infringement on the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.

      Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriages in California five months after the state Supreme Court legalized them, passed with 52 percent of the vote in November 2008 following the most expensive campaign on a social issue in U.S. history.

      Attorneys on both sides have said an appeal was certain if Walker did not rule in their favor. The case would go first to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then the Supreme Court if the high court justices agree to review it.

      Anticipating such a scenario, lawyers for the coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8 in 2008 filed a legal brief Tuesday asking Walker to stay his decision if he overturns the ban so same-sex couples could not marry while an appeal was pending.

      "Same-sex marriages would be licensed under a cloud of uncertainty, and should proponents succeed on appeal, any such marriages would be invalid," they wrote.

      Walker presided over a 13-day trial earlier this year that was the first in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married without violating the constitutional guarantee of equality.

      Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.

      Opponents said that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.

      Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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