SAN FRANCISCO — Hank Donat and Jeff Halperin, who already shared one moment in history, were not going to be denied another Thursday.
The first gay couple to be married at San Francisco City Hall after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions in California last year, they came to see if their marriage would still stand in the eyes of the court — or whether voters have successfully declared it invalid.
"It is in justice's hands now," said Donat, moments after California's highest court began hearing deliberations in legal challenges to Proposition 8, the initiative that amended the state constitution to declare that marriage exists only between a man and a woman.
But while sedate legal arguments unfolded inside the courtroom, another trial — this one full of raw emotion, celebrations and condemnations — took place outside. It consumed hundreds of people who watched the proceedings on a giant television screen in San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza or massed in dueling protests on the steps of the Supreme Court.
At times, the hoisted signs and chants from partisans made the affair look like a clash of fans at a college football game. But the topic — a defining issue in American social history — cut deeply into personal beliefs on loving relationships and cultural mores, on personal liberties and religious creeds.
"This is an outrage that it has even come before the court," said Christienne, a San Francisco woman in her 60s who said she wouldn't give her last name because she feared retribution in her workplace for opposing gay marriage.
"The rights of voters should be protected, no matter what. I'm a religious person. This would destroy my religion if they made this legal."
Blanketed by fellow gays holding blue signs reading, "I DO support the freedom to marry," Donat, 42, looked sternly at others holding yellow, "Yes on 8" signs and posters that said: "A moral wrong cannot be a civil right."
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