A guide to the Prop 8 trial

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The national debate over same-sex marriage is taking center stage in a California courtroom at a closely watched federal trial that could ultimately become the landmark case that determines whether gay Americans have a right to marry.

The case will decide a challenge to California’s gay marriage ban that was approved by voters in 2008, and the ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. How the high court rules in the case could set the precedent for whether gay marriage becomes legal nationwide.

“This could be our Brown vs. Board of Education,’’ said former Clinton White House adviser Richard Socarides, referring to the 1954 Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in schools and other public facilities.

The case marks the first federal trial to examine if the U.S. Constitution permits bans on gay marriages.

Plaintiffs: Two of the nation’s most influential lawyers are to argue the case — former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and trial lawyer David Boies. The lawyers are best known as the rivals who represented George W. Bush and Al Gore in the “hanging chad” dispute over the 2000 presidential election in Florida. They have tapped the talent of their respective law firms in preparation for the trial and they plan to take turns questioning witnesses.

Defendants: Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown are defendants in the lawsuit by virtue of their prominent positions in California government,. But both men opposed the ban and have refused to defend the suit in court.

The sponsors of the gay marriage ban, a coalition of religious and conservative groups, joined the case as defendants. Their legal team is being led by Charles Cooper, a veteran trial lawyer who worked for the Reagan-era Justice Department. Cooper is being assisted by a team of lawyers from his own firm, along with a Christian legal group based in Arizona.

Judge: Presiding over the case is U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, a Republican named to the bench in 1989 by the first President Bush. Walker, who has a reputation as an independent thinker, was randomly assigned the lawsuit,. He put it on a fast-track to trial, saying it raises serious civil rights claims.

— AP

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