SAN FRANCISCO — The first federal case to decide if the U.S. Constitution prevents states from stopping same-sex weddings came to an anti-climatic break Wednesday after a judge heard nearly 12 days of wide-ranging testimony on the meaning of marriage, the nature of sexual orientation, and the role of religion in shaping attitudes about both.
Attorneys for sponsors of California's Proposition 8 tentatively rested their case after introducing materials from the 2008 election campaign.
They called just two expert witnesses, including David Blankenhorn, president of the New York-based Institute for American Values, who capped the historic proceedings by saying the rights of same-sex couples should come second to preserving the cherished social institution of marriage.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker heard the case without a jury and said he will take time to review the evidence before allowing closing arguments, probably in March or April. He has no deadline for reaching a decision.
After testimony ended, Walker came down from the bench and shook hands with both legal teams.
"I just want to take a moment to congratulate you (on) what a good job you've both done," he said, calling it a fascinating case.
His eventual verdict is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Throughout the trial, lawyers for the two gay couples who filed the lawsuit seeking to overturn the ballot measure tried to show the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized marriage as a fundamental right and that there is no lawful reason to deny it to gays.
They also argued that Proposition 8, which passed with 52 percent of the vote, was a product of anti-gay prejudice rooted in religion and psychological theories about homosexuality that have long since been discredited.
Plaintiffs' lawyer David Boies said Walker had been provided with more than enough evidence to strike down the ban.
"We said on the first day of trial we would prove three things," he said during a news conference outside court. "Marriage is a fundamental right; that depriving gays and lesbians the right to marry hurts them and hurts their children; and there was no reason, no societal benefit in not allowing them to get married."
The defense countered that limiting marriage to a man and a woman serves a paramount social function by promoting stable biological families – a purpose that outweighs civil rights concerns.
Defense lawyers methodically cross-examined the parade of academic experts who testified for the plaintiffs then kept their part of the case brief.
Andy Pugno, a lawyer who served on the executive committee of the Proposition 8 campaign, said the burden of proof was on the plaintiffs.
"They have to prove the people voted irrationally when they voted to preserve the traditional definition of marriage," said Pugno, who often complained during the trial that voters and religion should not be put on trial.
"The question is whether the people have a right to decide what is best," he told reporters.
Lawyers on both sides delved into the premises that surround the polarized public discourse on gay marriage, touching on the fitness of gay parents, religious views on homosexuality, gender roles in marriage and the history of the gay rights movement.
They also aired topics that are less likely to be part of the polite debate, such as stereotypes that depict gays as pedophiles and link same-sex relationships to the specter of polygamy.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called more than a dozen witnesses, including Nancy Cott, a Harvard University historian who testified that monogamous, state-sanctioned marriage between one man and one woman is a relatively recent concept in human civilization.
Ryan Kendall, a gay Colorado man, recalled how being subjected to therapy designed to make him straight drove him to the brink of suicide.
The plaintiffs – Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, a lesbian couple from Berkeley, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, a gay couple from Burbank – also took the witness stand to describe why they regard the domestic partnerships that California allows gay couples to enter are a poor substitute for matrimony.
Lawyers for the couples also called William Tam, a proponent of Proposition 8, as a hostile witness to discuss his view that allowing gays to get married would lead to incest, polygamy and child abuse.
Defense lawyers called just two witnesses. Kenneth Miller, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, testified that gays enjoy considerable political clout and were not a disadvantaged minority, as depicted by plaintiffs.
Under cross-examination, Blankenhorn conceded there were many valid reasons for allowing gays to wed, but the considerations are outweighed by the likely damage it would cause the already weakened state of heterosexual unions.
He acknowledged, however, that allowing gays to wed would have positive consequences for same-sex couples and society, such as scoring "a victory for the worthy ideas of tolerance and inclusion," reducing anti-gay prejudice and hate crimes, and creating a higher standard of living for same-sex couples.