SMELT HAMMER
Matt A. Brown  /  AP
Arthur Smelt, left, and partner Christopher Hammer, shown at their lawyer's office in Santa Ana, Calif., want to be married. Their attorney argues that the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 22 are gross violations of civil rights akin to slavery or denying women the vote.
updated 1/27/2005 11:13:18 PM ET 2005-01-28T04:13:18

Calling gays “the most oppressed minority since slavery,” an attorney for a gay couple urged a judge Thursday to overturn California and federal laws banning same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit is one of only a few challenges to gay marriage bans that are pending in federal court, 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, but would take some time to consider the arguments.

California recognizes only marriages between a man and a woman, and the federal law allows states to disregard gay marriages performed in other states and foreign countries. Hammer and Smelt, both 45, had a private 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,” Hammer said outside the courthouse.

Lawyers for the county, state and federal governments and two private groups backing California’s ban on gay marriage argued that the couple have failed to prove they have been victims of unconstitutional discrimination in their bid to gain official recognition of their marriage.

This isn’t slavery’
Christopher Krueger, a lawyer for 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,” Krueger said.

The gay marriage opponents 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.

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