US Supreme Court ap­pears split on gay mar­riage


The U.S. Supreme Court ap­peared di­vided Tues­day on whether same-sex cou­ples have a con­sti­tu­tional right to wed, as it weighs a po­ten­tially his­toric de­ci­sion that could see gay mar­riage le­gal­ized na­tion­wide.

Hun­dreds of ac­tivists from both sides of the de­bate ral­lied in front of the high court in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal as the nine jus­tices in­side heard a case on one of the most po­lar­iz­ing so­cial is­sues fac­ing the coun­try.

The court ap­peared to split along its usual ide­o­log­i­cal divide, with its four lib­eral mem­bers seem­ing to fa­vor what Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg called a “change in the in­sti­tu­tion of mar­riage.”

But the con­ser­va­tives, led by Chief Jus­tice John Roberts, ex­pressed con­cern dur­ing the 2.5-hour hear­ing about a stark trans­for­ma­tion of an age-old tra­di­tion.

“You’re seek­ing to change what the in­sti­tu­tion is,” Roberts said, warn­ing the plain­tiffs’ coun­sel: “If you pre­vail, there will be no de­bate, closing the case is closing the de­bate.”

Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy — seen as the likely swing vote in the case and the au­thor of past opin­ions that ex­panded gay rights — seemed to give cre­dence to both sides of the de­bate.

He stressed it would be dif­fi­cult to change the tra­di­tional no­tion of mar­riage as a union be­tween a man and woman.

But he also noted that “same-sex mar­riage can’t have a more noble pur­pose ... ‘we can’t pro­cre­ate but ... we too have a dig­nity that we want to ful­fill.’”

‘They de­serve it now’

Ex­perts say recog­ni­tion of same­sex mar­riage — legal in 37 of the coun­try’s 50 states and in the cap­i­tal Wash­ing­ton, but not rec­og­nized ev­ery­where — seems in­evitable.

The court heard from plain­tiffs from four states — Ohio, Michi­gan, Ten­nessee and Ken­tucky — where gay mar­riage is still barred.

Sup­ported by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the 16 plain­tiffs want their mar­riages to be rec­og­nized as con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected in all U.S. states.

Their home states cur­rently de­fine mar­riage as be­ing be­tween a man and a woman, and do not rec­og­nize gay mar­riages car­ried out else­where in the coun­try.

If the Supreme Court were to rule in fa­vor of the plain­tiffs, it would thus make a de facto de­ci­sion against all 13 states ban­ning gay mar­riage.

Sup­port­ing the plain­tiffs, Solic­i­tor Gen­eral Don­ald Ver­rilli, a top Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tor­ney, ar­gued for same- sex mar­riage bans to be struck down.

“In a world where gay and les­bians live openly as our neigh­bors, it’s sim­ply un­ten­able that they should be de­nied, or they should wait,” he said.

“They de­serve the equal pro­tec­tion of the law, and they de­serve it now.”

Peo­ple lined up for days for a chance to hear the ar­gu­ments, and ac­tivists for and against mar­riage equal­ity ral­lied in front of the court.

Gay rights ac­tivists, in­clud­ing some of the plain­tiffs, un­furled the rain­bow flag of their move­ment and held signs pro­claim­ing: “Mar­riage is our con­sti­tu­tional right.”

In­side, one spec­ta­tor yelled out at the start of the hear­ing: “Homo sex is an abom­i­na­tion to God.”

The jus­tices, who are due to hand down their rul­ing in about two months, “re­ally hold our lives in their hands,” said Colleen Con­don, 44, who trav­eled from South Carolina for the pro­ceed­ings and re­cently mar­ried an­other woman.

Thom Kos­tura and Ijpe DeKoe, two of the plain­tiffs in the case, could not hide their emo­tion.


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