Protesters for and against marriage equality gathered outside the court on Tuesday (Pic: HRC / Twitter)
Which way the US Supreme Court will ultimately rule on gay and lesbian marriage is far from clear.
The court’s justices appeared divided on the issue as they heard oral arguments on Tuesday challenging gay marriage bans in the states of Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky.
The justices dealt with two major questions: If the US Constitution compels states to allow same-sex couples to marry and if states must recognise same-sex marriages legally licensed in other states.
They grilled the two camps on their positions, in the process suggesting that their decision, which might include forcing all states to adopt marriage equality, will be a close one.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could be a pivotal player in the court’s decision, appeared concerned about redefining marriage as being more than a union between a man and a woman.
“This definition has been with us for millennia, and it’s very difficult for the court to say: ‘Oh, well, we know better,” he commented.
However, he also later said that while gay and lesbian couples might not be able to procreate they “too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled” through marriage.
More liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted that, “You are not taking away anything from heterosexual couples’ with same-sex marriage.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor also asked: “How does withholding marriage from one group increase the value to the other group?”
As supporters and opponents of marriage equality gathered outside the court, the proceedings were at one point interrupted by a man who began shouting in the courtroom: “If you support gay marriage, then you will burn in hell.”
Identified as Rives Miller Grogan, he was arrested and charged with making a “harangue or oration” inside the Supreme Court and with impeding the administration of justice.
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), more than 70 percent of Americans already live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.
“More importantly,” added HRC President Chad Griffin, “more than 200,000 children are being raised by same-sex parents in this country, and those children deserve the full protection of the law.”
The US Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on same-sex marriage in June.