- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) | A federal judge in San Francisco said Thursday that he wants to conduct a full trial on a lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban because he expects the case to one day reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

During his first hearing on the suit, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker said it was his job as a trial judge to settle any factual disputes surrounding the voter-approved ban and its effect on the civil rights of gays and lesbians before the case goes to a higher court.

“I am reasonably sure that, given the personalities in this courtroom, this case is only touching down in this court and it will have a life after this court,” Judge Walker said. “What happens here is in many ways a prelude to what happens later.”

The judge, who was named to the bench by President George H.W. Bush, has been asked to strike down Proposition 8 as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection.

The November ballot initiative supplanted a California Supreme Court ruling that had legalized same-sex marriages, but the state high court upheld the measure in late May as a valid exercise of the electorate’s power to amend the California Constitution.

The case has generated much attention because it was brought on behalf of two unmarried same-sex couples by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson and veteran trial lawyer David Boies, the attorneys who represented opposing sides in the disputed 2000 presidential election tally.

Judge Walker on Thursday rejected a request from the Boies/Olson team that he suspend enforcement of the gay marriage ban while the challenge to it proceeds.

He said he agreed with California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that allowing gay marriages to resume now would create unnecessary confusion for the state and same-sex newlyweds if Proposition 8 is upheld down the road.

But Judge Walker added that he wants to put the case on an accelerated timetable because it involves serious civil rights issues. He directed lawyers for the two couples and the ballot measure’s sponsors to report back to him in writing by Aug. 7 with the issues they agree on up front and those that would need to be resolved at trial.

Mr. Olson said afterward that he was pleased by the judge’s desire to explore in depth the issues raised by the case. He said he expected the two sides in the case to agree easily on some issues, such as Proposition 8’s ballot history, and less easily on others, such as whether eliminating the right to wed for gay people constitutes discrimination.

“When it does get to the U.S. Supreme Court, we expect to win,” he said.

Andy Pugno, one of the lawyers representing Proposition 8’s proponents, said his clients, too, were eager to have the fate of Proposition 8 settled.

“This is a very complex case. The judge and both sides are attempting to narrow down the factual issues that need to be addressed to avoid an unnecessary, full-blown trial,” Mr. Pugno said. “I don’t think that’s in anyone’s interest, and it would absolutely delay the outcome.”

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