SAN FRANCISCO — The trial of a legal challenge to Proposition 8 may decide whether same-sex couples get the chance to marry in California in the future, but on Tuesday it was all about history.

Seeking to show that the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage is rooted in discrimination, lawyers for same-sex couples offered up two Ivy League historians who testified throughout the day on how Proposition 8 is part of a long tradition of denying gay couples equal rights and exposing them to campaigns of ridicule.

The historians, whose credibility as independent experts came under immediate attack from Proposition 8 lawyers, testified in the second day of the first federal court trial in the nation to test the legality of a state's ban on the right of same-sex couples to wed.

The trial resumes this morning before Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who is deciding a lawsuit filed on behalf of same-sex couples who argue that Proposition 8 violates federal equal protection rights. The question today is whether the trial will continue to unfold only before the spectators in the judge's courthouse here, or make it onto the Web via broadcast on YouTube.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide by midday whether to lift a stay on Walker's earlier order allowing the delayed broadcast of the proceedings on the court's Web site by using YouTube; the justices put the unprecedented plan on hold earlier this week at the request of Proposition 8 supporters,


who oppose any broadcast of the trial. They say broadcasting the court proceedings would expose their witnesses to threats and intimidation, and would "negatively affect the fairness of the trial."

Meanwhile, the drama of the first day of the trial on Monday gave way Tuesday to the dry but exhaustive testimony of two expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, Harvard University professor Nancy Cott, an expert on the evolution of marriage, and George Chauncey, a Yale University historian and expert on discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Cott and Chauncey conceded they back same-sex marriage. But despite hostile cross-examination from Proposition 8 lawyers, they said that history drives their view that gays and lesbians will inevitably earn the right to marry.

Cott, whose occasional long-winded answers drew a few barbs from the judge and lawyers, was asked to shoot down many of Proposition 8's central contentions, such as the argument gay marriage would damage traditional marriage or that marriage is designed primarily for procreation. Noting that President George Washington was the "father of our country" and sterile when he married later in life, Cott testified: "There has never been a requirement that a couple produce children to marry."

Chauncey walked the judge through more than 100 years of discrimination against gays and lesbians, dating back to laws banning them from assembling in public. Plaintiff attorneys asked Chauncey how the Proposition 8 campaign fit with that history.

"The wave of campaigns we've seen against gay marriage rights the last decade are (part) of the cycle of anti-gay rights campaigns," he said.

Chauncey is scheduled to take the stand again this morning for more cross-examination. And the plaintiffs have three more experts lined up for today's trial proceedings.