- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2005

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - An attorney for a same-sex couple called homosexuals “the most oppressed minority since slavery” and urged a judge yesterday to overturn California and federal laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

The lawsuit is one of the last remaining efforts in federal court to try to redefine marriage, and the case is being closely watched nationwide.

“It now falls to you to uphold the principles of liberty,” attorney Richard Gilbert told U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor during a five-hour hearing.

The judge, after detailed questioning in the lawsuit filed by Christopher Hammer and Arthur Smelt, said he would not issue an immediate ruling and would take some time to consider the arguments.

California’s constitution specifies marriage as between a man and a woman, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allows states to disregard homosexual “marriages” performed in other states and foreign countries.

Mr. Hammer and Mr. Smelt, both 45, had a commitment ceremony in 1997 and applied for a marriage license from Orange County last year. They filed suit after they were turned down.

“It was something that needed to be done,” Mr. Hammer said outside the courthouse.

Attorneys for the county, state and federal governments and two private groups backing California’s definition of marriage argued that the couple have failed to prove they have been victims of unconstitutional discrimination in their bid to “marry.”

Christopher Krueger, a lawyer with the California Attorney General’s Office, noted that same-sex couples can register in the statewide domestic partners registry and are protected against discrimination by legislation.

“This isn’t slavery and segregation,” Mr. Krueger said.

The opponents of homosexual “marriage” also argued that the government has a legitimate and long-standing goal of encouraging marriage between men and women as a way to produce and raise children in stable environments.

“Marriage has always meant a man and a woman. That is what is fundamental about marriage,” said Scott Simpson, a Department of Justice lawyer.

The hearing came two days after three homosexual couples in Florida decided to drop similar lawsuits challenging DOMA after a judge dismissed their cases. They decided not to risk appeals that could result in the U.S. Supreme Court setting a precedent by rejecting the cases.

The only other same-sex “marriage” case pending in federal court, according to lawyers on both sides of the debate, is one in Nebraska that challenges a state marriage law. The judge has not ruled in that case.

“Certainly, eyes are going to be focused on this particular case” in Orange County, said Matthew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, an opponent of homosexual “marriage.”

Mr. Gilbert said he will appeal if he loses before Judge Taylor.

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