California gay marriage case highlights hurt, hope

Mon Jan 11, 2010 10:06pm EST
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By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two gay men and two lesbians challenging a California ban on same-sex marriage on Monday said their relationships had lasted for years but they felt like third-class citizens, leading them to launch the federal case that could set a national precedent.

The couples unable to marry in California hope to take their case against the state's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and to overturn bans throughout the nation.

A loss in the top court, two ranks above the action in the case which began on Monday, would seriously undermine efforts to win gay marriage rights in state courts.

The United States is divided on same-sex marriage. It is legal in only five states, though most of those, and the District of Columbia, approved it last year.

Approval of Prop 8 in November 2008 was a sweet victory for social conservatives in a state with a liberal, trend-setting reputation, and maintained the steady success they have scored on the issue at the ballot box. Where it is legal, gay marriage has been championed by courts and legislatures, not voters.

"I don't think of myself as a bad person," said Paul Katami, describing the persecution he felt from a media campaign warning California parents to 'protect' their children by voting against same-sex unions in the 2008 poll.

He and his would-be husband, Jeffrey Zarrillo, described slights in gay life that ranged from being pelted with rocks and eggs in college to the awkwardness of checking into a hotel and not being able to clarify the relationship.

"Being able to call him my husband is so definitive," Katami said. "There is no subtlety to it. It is absolute."   Continued...

<p>Same-sex couple Elizabeth Chase (L) and Kate Baldridge stand outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco, California January 11, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith</p>