SAN FRANCISCO — The legal fight over California's gay marriage ban went before a federal appeals court Monday in a hearing that reached a nationwide TV audience anxious for a final decision on whether the measure violates the U.S. Constitution.
The hearing before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also focused on whether supporters of voter-approved Proposition 8 have legal standing to challenge a lower court ruling that the ban was unconstitutional.
The judges did not issue an immediate ruling, and no timetable has been set.
C-SPAN piped the nearly three-hour hearing into law schools, courthouses, community centers and elsewhere across the country, giving the public outside the 9th Circuit headquarters in San Francisco its first — and possibly last — direct look at the debate raging in the landmark challenge that could affect gay marriage bans in other states.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a district court judge in San Francisco from broadcasting the full trial. The Supreme Court has a blanket ban on televising its own proceedings, meaning future hearings will be blacked out if the gay marriage case reaches the high court, as many legal experts and lawyers on both sides think it might.
Matt Walker, 60, of Los Angeles watched the hearing with about 20 other people at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in West Hollywood, saying the lives of many of his friends would be affected by the final decision. He found the hearing fascinating.
"Nobody from either side was getting a pass. The judges asked very probing questions," he said.
Viewers watched attorney Charles Cooper, who represents sponsors of the ban, argue that the state can treat same-sex couples differently when it comes to marriage without running afoul of the Constitution because "sexual relationships between men and women naturally produce children."
"Society has no particular interest in a platonic relationship between a man and a woman no matter how close it might be, or emotional relationships between other people as well, but when the relationship becomes a sexual one, society has a considerable interest in that," Cooper told the judges.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt replied: "That sounds like a good argument for prohibiting divorce. But how does it relate to having two males and two females marry each other and raise children as they can in California and form a family unit where children have a happy, healthy home?"
Opponents of Proposition 8 contend it violates the due process and equal protection rights of gays and lesbians under the U.S. Constitution by denying them the right to marry the person of their choice and by singling them out for disparate treatment without a legitimate rationale.