WASHINGTON -- The definition of marriage in America is at stake in a trial in California where lawyers presented their final arguments on Thursday regarding Proposition 8.
Opponents want to overturn a California law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and allow same-sex marriage. The landmark case could end up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A Matter of Equal Protection?
Attorneys appeared before federal judge Vaughn Walker to make their final arguments over whether Proposition 8 should be overturned.
A majority of Californians approved Prop 8 at the polls, sending a clear message they want state law to recognize only marriages between a man and a woman.
However, two same-sex couples sued, saying the amendment is unconstitutional.
"This case, for us, is about how we as Americans just want to be treated equally by our government, and under the law, and today we'll be going to court with that very simple request," plaintiff Sandy Stier said.
"Paul and I are often asked what this case is about, and all we're asking the court to do is ensure that we are protected under our Constitution, like every American is supposed to be," said Jeff Zarrillo, another plaintiff.
That was also the main argument of their attorney, Ted Olson - equal protection under the law.
"Part of our Constitution is that no majority will take away the rights of a minority," Olson said.
"Proposition 8 divided our state into marriage haves and have-nots," same-sex spouse Stuart Gaffney said.
Prop 8 Supporters: It's a Matter of Survival
Meanwhile, the lawyers defending Prop 8 said striking the measure down would amount to taking away the rights of millions of Californians to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
"Allowing same sex marriage would necessarily change the very institution itself of marriage," Yes on 8 attorneys Andy Pugno argued. "And that gets to the heart of this case and that is whether the people and their elected representatives should have the final say, whether they should get to decide or whether that belongs to the courts."
"The 7 million voters in California voted for Prop 8," said Jordan Lorence, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund. "They made a reasonable, legitimate public policy decision that the Constitution permits, and that the federal judge should just defer to their decision."
The defenders also argued that a key reason for traditional marriage is that it promotes procreation - and is fundamental to the survival of the human race.
The judge responded that people who cannot have children have been allowed to marry and that they married for love, not necessarily children.
The defenders of Prop 8 added that the burden of proof was on the plaintiffs to show that the measure was unconstitutional.
The judge, himself a homosexual, is expected to take weeks to rule on the case. Regardless of his decision, it will likely be appealed.
"We're anxious for his decision so this case can then move on to the next rounds," said Charles Cooper, one of the attorneys defending Prop 8.
Should the case go before the Supreme Court, it will become the first case involving same-sex marriage to reach the high court. The justices' decision will affect the entire nation.