Stage set for landmark U.S. Supreme Court gay marriage arguments

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U.S. Supreme Court May Be Close to Declaring Right to Gay Marriage

(Reuters) - A day before the U.S. Supreme Court hears landmark arguments on whether the Constitution provides a right to same-sex marriage, activists on both sides of the contentious social issue converged on the white marble courthouse to voice their views.

Anti-gay rights activists rallied in front of the courthouse steps condemning same-sex marriage, while a line snaked around the block of people, many displaying gay rights messages, hoping to snag one of the limited number of seats available in the courtroom for Tuesday's 2-1/2 hour oral arguments.

The nine justices will be hearing arguments concerning gay marriage restrictions imposed in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, four of the 13 states that still outlaw such marriages. The ruling, due by the end of June, will determine whether same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide.

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Stage set for landmark U.S. Supreme Court gay marriage arguments
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: A gay marriage waves a flag in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: Supporters for and against gay marriage gather in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Television crews set up outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Carlos McKnight, 17, of Washington, left, and Katherine Nicole Struck, 25, of Frederick, Md., hold flags in support of gay marriage as security walks behind outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jonathan Contreras, left, and Bonnie Casillas hold balloons that spelled out "love" in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Thursday June 25, 2015. The court is expected to hand down decisions today. Two major opinions, health care and gay marriage, are among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Supporters of same-sex marriages cheer outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: Supporters for and against gay marriage gather in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
People begin to enter the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Plaintiff Rev. Maurice Blanchard, of Louisville, Ky., makes heart with his hands behind plaintiff plaintiff James Obergefell of Ohio, right, as they stand outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, following a hearing on same-sex marriages. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Shelly Bailes, 74, left, and her wife Ellen Pontac, 73, both of Davis, Calif., kiss in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land. The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Demonstrators hold up a rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land. The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: A couple poses for a photo near the Supreme Court, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, with decisions expected in June. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Map shows status of gay marriage in the states; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Opponents of same-sex marriage demonstrate near the Supreme Court, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, with decisions expected in June. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Pro and anti-gay rights protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Pro and anti-gay rights protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Plaintiffs John Espejo, left, and his husband Matthew Mansell, of Franklin, Tenn., prepare to enter the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land. The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Joe Capley-Alfano, center, and his husband Frank Capley-Alfano, who've been together 15 years and married seven, hold an American flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land. The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Diane Olson, left, and her wife Robin Tyler, of Los Angeles, show off their number 1 ticket for the first in-line for a seat in the Supreme Court while waiting to enter the court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land. The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Equality flags fly in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The Supreme Court is set to hear historic arguments in cases that could make same-sex marriage the law of the land. The justices are meeting Tuesday to offer the first public indication of where they stand in the dispute over whether states can continue defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution gives gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Protesters hold pro-gay rights signs outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriages gather outside the US Supreme Court waiting for its decision on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to wed -- a potentially historic decision that could see same-sex marriage recognized nationwide. (Photo credit Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)
A rainbow colored flag, seen through an American flag, flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, April 27, 2015, as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Plaintiff James Obergefell speaks about his case before tomorrow's arguments at the US Supreme Court April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin (R) speaks about Plaintiff's James Obergefell (L) case before tomorrow's arguments at the US Supreme Court April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Anti-gay marriage protesters gather in front of the US Supreme Court Building April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments April 28, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
People camp on the sidewalk outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015 in Washington, DC, to attend the April 28, 2015, US Supreme Court session regarding gay marriage. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J.RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold a pro-gay rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, countering the demonstrators who attended the March For Marriage in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the DC Sisters, the Abbey of Magnificent Intentions, wait for protesters from the March For Marriage outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters in the March For Marriage arrive outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
A Supreme Court Police Officer approaches a protester wearing a Michelle Obama mask, in a area not allowed for protesters, as the March For Marriage goes on outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators with Official Street Preachers hold up anti-homosexual placards in front of the White House in Washington, DC, April 26, 2015. The lengthy fight to allow gay marriage across America may soon be at an end with the Supreme Court set April 28 to consider whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. Already legal in 37 of the country's 50 states and in the capital Washington, experts say it seems inevitable that the nation's top court will recognize gay marriage. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Chad Griffin, Human Rights Campaign President, and Jim Obergefell, right, are photographed outside the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign on Monday, April 27, 2015 in Washington. Obergefell is the named plaintiff in the marriage equality case before the Supreme Court. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
An American flag and a rainbow colored flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, April 27, 2015, as the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Sean Varsho, 28, of Chicago, left, and Brandon Dawson, 26, of Warrenton Va., have been waiting in line for the past three days for a seat for Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing on gay marriage, Monday, April 27, 2015, in Washington. The opponents of same-sex marriage are urging the court to resist embracing what they see as a radical change in society's view of what constitutes marriage. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Pro-gay rights protesters kiss outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Protesters hold pro-gay rights flags outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

Map shows states with laws allowing same-sex marriage

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

The flag flies in the wind in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Monday, June 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Before gay marriage became legal after a court ruling in the liberal northeastern state of Massachusetts in 2004, it was not permitted in any state. Now it is legal in 37 states and Washington, D.C.

Gay rights activists call same-sex marriage a leading American civil rights issue of this era.

At a small Monday morning rally, opponents of gay marriage, mainly representatives of Christian organizations, railed against judges who have struck down state gay marriage bans.

"Homosexuality is not a civil right," said one of the speakers, Greg Quinlan of the group New Jersey Family Policy Council.

Steven Hotze, a conservative Texas doctor, raised concerns about the impact legalized gay marriage would have on Christians who oppose it. "It would force individuals to have to condone, accept, even celebrate, sexual immorality," Hotze said.

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy may cast the deciding fifth vote on a court closely divided on gay rights. The four liberal justices are expected to support same-sex marriage, and Kennedy has a history of backing gay rights.

Tuesday's arguments will be divided into two parts. The first, set for 90 minutes, is on whether the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean states must allow gay couples to marry. The second, scheduled for an hour, concerns whether states must recognize same-sex marriages that take place out-of-state.

The legal repercussions for same-sex couples are broad, affecting not just their right to marry but also their right to be recognized as a spouse or parent on birth and death certificates and other legal papers.

Greg Bourke, one of the parties in the case from Kentucky, has been in a relationship with Michael De Leon since 1982 and they have two teenage children. In 2004, they were married in Canada, but because Kentucky does not recognize same-sex marriage Bourke is not legally recognized as a parent.

"For me, this lawsuit is about family," Bourke said. "What does it take to be recognized as a parent? I think I've earned it."

President Barack Obama is the first sitting president to support gay marriage. His administration will argue on the side of the same-sex marriage advocates. Nineteen states have filed court papers backing same-sex marriage. Seventeen are supporting the four states defending their bans.

Opinion polls show support among Americans for same-sex marriage has been rising in recent years.

Mary Bonauto, the lead lawyer arguing for gay marriage, said the case "doesn't rest on where public opinion stands." She also said people living in states where it is now legal have become comfortable with the idea of same-sex couples marrying.

Opponents say the legality of same-sex marriage should be decided by individual states, not judges. Some argue it is an affront to traditional marriage between a man and a woman and that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

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