U.S. gay marriage case clears hurdle

Wed Oct 14, 2009 11:05pm EDT
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By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California gay marriage case that backers hope will reach the U.S. Supreme Court cleared a hurdle on Wednesday in a federal court hearing where the judge repeatedly asked the lawyer defending "traditional marriage" how gay unions harm those between men and women.

California, a cultural trendsetter for the United States, banned same-sex marriages in a vote last November that ended gay unions only months after a state court legalized them.

The passage of the ban known as Proposition 8 spurred the current federal case, and challengers hope the U.S. Supreme Court eventually will rule that gay marriage must be allowed throughout the country.

Northern California Federal District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker denied a request to dismiss the case, saying a full trial scheduled for January would be needed to determine such issues as whether gays deserve special constitutional protection afforded racial minorities and whether the ban was a rational move to protect marriage or an act of hate.

He questioned both lawyers, especially Charles Cooper, who had argued for the quick dismissal of the entire case.

Walker asked again and again what harm same-sex marriages would do to marriages between men and women.

"I don't know," Cooper replied. He argued the question was irrelevant because he should only be required to show there was a logical reason for the ban. "If the state has any conceivable purpose, I have to win," he said.

Most U.S. states ban gay marriage, and California may want time to watch what happens in the handful that allow it, he said.   Continued...