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Prop. 8 trial: defenders of gay-marriage ban make their case

In the federal trial on California's Prop. 8, defenders of the voter ban on gay marriage called their first witnesses Monday. Defense lawyers argue that gays and lesbians in California enjoy plenty of political power and do not need extra constitutional protection.

Same-sex marriage supporters block a sign of those who oppose it prior to the start of a trial outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco, California January 11.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters

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Lawyers defending Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage, brought their first witnesses to the stand Monday to to testify that gays and lesbians enjoy a rising level of political and cultural support in America.

Kenneth Miller, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, the first witness for the defense in the federal trial on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, disputed evidence presented by the plaintiffs that gays and lesbians lack significant political clout largely due to discrimination.

Gays and lesbians enjoyed broad support from leading California politicians and celebrities in the campaign against Proposition 8, Mr. Miller said. Groups opposed to the initiative raised about $40 million to defeat the marriage ban at the ballot box, he added. “It's exceptionally rare" for ballot measures on social issues to generate that kind of cash, Miller said.

In the end, however, 52 percent of Californians voted in favor of limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

Political clout and prejudice play an important role in the legal case against Proposition 8. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are attempting to show that sexual orientation should be given “suspect class” status – a legal classification typically reserved for racial and ethnic minorities that carries greater constitutional protections – and therefore afforded greater protection under the law.

But in order to prove “suspect class” status, they have to show two things: that sexual orientation is an immutable trait, like race or ethnicity, and that gays and lesbians are unable to protect their interests via the political process.

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