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San Francisco – Advocates on both sides of the gay marriage issue demonstrated outside California’s highest court Thursday before justices heard arguments on lawsuits seeking to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex nuptials.
Supporters of gay marriage carried rainbow flags and banners that urged the overturning of voter-approved Proposition 8, which took away the right of gay men and lesbians to wed.
Nearby, opponents of the unions held yellow signs left over from last year’s campaign that said “Yes on 8.” Others said, “A moral wrong cannot be a civil right.”
Police officers stood watch, and while emotions ran high, the demonstration was peaceful.
Fewer than two dozen people who waited in line early Thursday were able to get a seats in the courtroom for the three-hour hearing. Gay rights groups also rented out a nearby auditorium and a big screen television for the outdoor plaza.
“It’s important to show the Supreme Court justices history is on our side,” said Paul Sousa, 22, of Boston, who flew to San Francisco on Wednesday to be close to the action. “Courts often can be a couple steps ahead of the curve on civil rights issues. We just have to help them get there.”
The state Supreme Court’s seven justices have 90 days after the oral arguments in which to issue a ruling.
The ballot initiative, which passed with 52 percent of the vote in November, changed the California Constitution to trump last year’s 4-3 state Supreme Court decision that held that denying same-sex couples the right to wed was an unconstitutional civil rights violation.
On Wednesday night, several thousand people marched from San Francisco’s pro-gay Castro District to City Hall both to demonstrate public support for invalidating Proposition 8.
Similar vigils were held in Los Angeles, other California cities, and as far away as New York. At the Los Angeles event, gay and lesbian couples decked out in wedding finery participated in a public “recommitment” ceremony.
The coalition of religious and conservative groups that sponsored Proposition 8 organized a statewide day of prayer on Sunday to rally support for upholding the measure and encouraged supporters to peacefully join same-sex marriage advocates outside the Supreme Court on Thursday.
“Our only purpose is to remind the media, Californians and Americans everywhere that support for traditional marriage is the majority position in the state,” Ron Prentice, chairman of the ProtectMarriage coalition, said in a statement. “We won the Prop 8 election. The Constitution has been amended. The will of the people should now prevail.”
Gay rights groups, couples and more than a dozen local governments are urging the court to overturn the measure on the grounds that it was put before voters improperly, or at least prematurely. Under state law, the Legislature must approve significant constitutional changes before they can go on the ballot.
Attorney General Jerry Brown has taken the unusual step of refusing to defend the gay marriage ban in court. His office argues that because the court has already recognized marriage as a fundamental right and gays as a minority group deserving of judicial protection, outlawing same-sex marriage is a constitutional breach.
Proposition 8’s sponsors are being represented in court by former Pepperdine law school dean Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He argues that the ballot initiative was approved correctly and that it would be a miscarriage of justice for the court to overturn the results of a fair election.
Associated Press
Associated Press writer Raquel Dillon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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