Supreme Court hears historic same-sex marriage arguments

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Stage Set for Landmark U.S. Supreme Court Gay Marriage Arguments

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy joined conservative colleagues in asking skeptical questions Tuesday as the high court heard historic arguments over the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Kennedy, whose vote is seen as pivotal, said marriage has been understood as one man and one woman for "millennia-plus time." He said same-sex marriage has been debated in earnest for only about 10 years, and he wondered aloud whether scholars and the public need more time.

"It's very difficult for the court to say 'We know better,'" Kennedy told Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing same-sex couples.

Chief Justice John Roberts said gay couples seeking to marry are not seeking to join the institution of marriage.

"You're seeking to change what the institution is," Roberts said.

43 PHOTOS
Supreme Court same-sex marriage arguments, gay marriage
See Gallery
Supreme Court hears historic same-sex 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)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The arguments offered the first public indication of where the justices 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.

The session was interrupted after about 30 minutes by a protester yelling loudly. He was removed by security.

Justice Antonin Scalia said the issue is not whether there should be same-sex marriage "but who should decide the point." He expressed concern about the court imposing a requirement on the states that "is unpalatable to many for religious reasons."

Justice Stephen Breyer asked if the nation needs more time to "wait and see" whether gay marriage is harmful to society. Bonauto responded that wait-and-see has never been considered a justification for discrimination under the Constitution.

The court was hearing extended arguments, scheduled to last 2½ hours, which also are exploring whether states that do not permit same-sex marriage must nonetheless recognize such unions from elsewhere. Same-sex couples now can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

People on both sides of the issue gathered outside the marble courthouse early Tuesday. Some waved gay rights banners, while others carried placards proclaiming marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

"Homo sex is a sin," read one sign. A man shouted into a microphone that gays violate the laws of God. A group of same-sex advocates tried to drown him out by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Cheers went up in the crowd when the court's doors opened, allowing a lucky few who lined up days ago to get inside.

33 PHOTOS
SCOTUS gay marriage
See Gallery
Supreme Court hears historic same-sex marriage arguments
Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer pose at their home in Hazel Park, Mich., Sunday, April 12, 2015. DeBoer and Rowse were not planning to challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage when they went to court to win the right to jointly adopt each other’s children. A federal judge transformed their case into one about the right to marry, and the nurses have become celebrities in their Detroit suburb of Hazel Park. They are among the 19 men and 12 women whose same-sex marriage cases from those two states, plus Michigan and Tennessee, will be argued at the Supreme Court on April 28. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer, right, pose with their adopted children Jacob, 5, from left, Nolan, 6, Ryanne, 6, and Rylee, 2, at their home in Hazel Park, Mich., Sunday, April 12, 2015. DeBoer and Rowse initially went to court to win the right to jointly adopt each other’s children, not to confront Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. But three years later, the Detroit-area nurses sometimes can’t buy groceries without supporters recognizing them and giving a hug. Each woman has adopted two kids, but they can’t jointly adopt them because joint adoption in Michigan is tied to marriage. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
In this Feb. 9, 2015 photo, Amanda Keller holds a flag as she joins other gay marriage supporters in Linn Park, at the Jefferson County courthouse in Birmingham, Ala. In the late 1980s, support for gay marriage was essentially unheard of in America. Just a quarter century later, it’s now favored by clear majority of Americans. That dramatic shift in opinion is among the fastest changes ever measured by the General Social Survey, a widely respected survey that has measured trends on a huge array of American attitudes for more than four decades. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)
Marj Plumb, right, and Tracy Weitz, one of seven same-sex couples who had sued to block Nebraska's ban on gay marriage, kiss outside Federal Court in Omaha, Neb., prior to a hearing, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. At the hearing, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon was asked to require the state of Nebraska to recognize same-sex marriages immediately while a lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban proceeds, but the judge did not issue an immediate ruling. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(L-R) Jonathon Infante-May hugs his new husband Joseph Infante-May as Bruce-Robert Pocock and John Starkie, also newlyweds, embrace after getting married during a ceremony at the Broward County Courthouse on January 6, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Gay marriage is now legal statewide after the courts ruled that the ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court declined to intervene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Aymarah Robles (L) adn Deborah Shure show off the marriage license they just received at the Clerk of the Courts - Miami-Dade County Court on January 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Gay marriage is now legal statewide after the courts ruled that the ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court declined to intervene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Catherina Pareto, left, and her partner Karla Arguello celebrate on the court house steps after Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel lifted a stay on her July ruling that Florida's same sex marriage ban violates equal protections under the U.S. Constitution, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015 in Miami. Judge Zabel provided a jump-start Monday to Florida's entry as the 36th state where gays and lesbians can legally marry, saying she saw no reason why same-sex couples couldn't immediately get their licenses in Miami-Dade County ahead of a midnight launch statewide. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
In a Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 photo, supporters of Arkansas' law banning same sex marriage, top, hold a rally at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., as protestors carry flags and shout. An gay rights ordinance passed in August by the city council in Fayetteville, Ark., was repealed by voters on Dec. 10. Even as same-sex marriage edges closer to becoming legal nationwide, gay-rights advocates face other challenges in 2015 that may not bring quick victories. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
April Dawn Breeden, left, and her long-time partner Crystal Peairs kiss after they were married Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, at City Hall in St. Louis. St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison overturned Missouri's ban on gay marriage on Wednesday saying the law is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Katie Burris, left, and her partner Evangeline Cook embrace after receiving their marriage license at the Marion County Clerks office in Indianapolis, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away appeals from Indiana and four other states seeking to prohibit same-sex marriages, paving the way for an immediate expansion of gay and lesbian unions. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
In this Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Lennie Gerber, left, and her spouse, Pearl Berlin, laugh while at their home in High Point, N.C. The couple, who have been together 48 years and legally married in Maine in 2013, have a federal challenge pending against North Carolina's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
DENVER, CO - JULY 10: Anna Simon (L) puts the ring on the finger of Fran Simon after it was official, the first same sex married couple to get their license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. They are the first official married couple as they self-solemnized at the office. They are the first to go on record with the Denver County clerk's office. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Longtime same-sex couple Angie Holley, right, and Bylo Farmer smile and carry their new marriage license, as they depart the offices of the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, June 26, 2014. Together eight years already, Holley and Farmer decided to become officially married after Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall began issuing licenses a day earlier following a federal appeals court ruling that Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Longtime same-sex couple Jennifer Knight, left, and Felice Cohen kiss after receiving a marriage license, inside the offices of the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, June 26, 2014. Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall began issuing licenses a day earlier following a federal appeals court ruling that Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. More couples showed up in Boulder on Thursday to get licenses. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
FILE - In this June 25, 2014, file photo, plaintiffs Moudi Sbeity, right, and his partner Derek Kitchen, one of three couples who brought the lawsuit against Utah's gay marriage ban, walk with other plaintiffs after arriving for a news conference in Salt Lake City. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled on June 25 that Utah must allow gay couples to marry, finding the Constitution protects same-sex relationships. The court made the same ruling on Oklahoma's ban Friday. Utah and Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed the bans in 2004. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Bart Peterson, right, and Pete McNamara hug after they were married in Indianapolis, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. A federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Jake Miller, right, 30, and Craig Bowen, 35, are married by Marion County Clerk Beth White, left, in Indianapolis, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. A federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
FILE - In this June 25, 2014 file photo Bart Peterson, left, and Pete McNamara are married by Marion County Clerk Beth White in Indianapolis after a federal judge struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage bans in both Indiana and Wisconsin were overturned in June and then appealed by the attorneys generals of both states. A U.S. appeals court in Chicago ruled Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 that gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana violate the U.S. Constitution — thereby bumping the number of states where gay marriage will be legal from 19 to 21. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
Monika Urana, second from left, and Julie Nischik, both of Madison, embrace and kiss after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. Their respective mothers, Angie Julian, left, and Stephanie Nischik, right, react to their marriage. The two have been together for 9 years. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Meghan Connor, left, and Nujemi Champion, both of Madison, show off their wedding documents after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Kerry Lehman, right, kisses Sara Hinkel, after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. The partners, both of Madison, have been together for 14 years. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele reacts with Jose Fernando Gutierrez, middle, and Matthew Schreck after their marriage ceremony at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Pat Cline, left, and Patty McKenzie wait to get married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Jill Winkler, left, and Pamela Dietzler exchange rings as they are married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Jill Winkler, left, and Pamela Dietzler kiss after they were married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Cody Huston, left, and Tina Cady, both of Madison, embrace after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Pat Cline, left, and Patty McKenzie look at each other during their wedding at the Milwaukee County Courthouse Friday June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Alexis Leonard, left, and Chelsea Beresford kiss before applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted the marriage license request and said he will send it to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Mitch Fortune, left, and Jake Crouch look over paperwork before applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted marriage license requests Tuesday, and said he will send to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Same-sex couple Carol McCrory, left, and Brenda Clark, center, speak to Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger, right, after applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Reisinger accepted the marriage license request and said he will send it to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Same-sex couple Lauren White, left, and Amy Cantrell, right, hold each other after applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, after Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted accepted a marriage license request from a same sex couple. He says he'll accept the license request and send it to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Long-time partners Ann Willoughby, left, and Barb Goldstein, from Durham, North Carolina, leave the Durham County Register of Deeds office in downtown Durham on Wednesday, May 9, 2012, comforting each other after being denied a marriage license. (Harry Lynch/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2013, file photo, Darren Black Bear, left, and Jason Pickel hold up their marriage license issued by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes near Jason's home in Oklahoma City, Thursday Oct. 24, 2013. Despite a ban on gay marriage in the Oklahoma Constitution, Black Bear and Pickel wed Thursday, Oct. 31, at Fort Reno after being granted a marriage license from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. (AP Photo/Nick Oxford, File)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The cases before the court come from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, four of the 14 remaining states that allow only heterosexual marriage. Those four states had marriage bans upheld by the federal appeals court in Cincinnati in November. That is the only federal appeals court that has ruled in favor of the states since the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law.

Kennedy has written the court's three prior gay rights decisions, including the case from two years ago. All eyes are on him for any signals of his intention this time.

It was barely a decade ago that the first state allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry. That was Massachusetts, in 2004. As recently as last October, barely a third of the states permitted it. Now, same-sex couples can marry in 36 states and Washington, D.C., a sign of the dramatic change in public opinion.

At the Supreme Court, the opposing states hoped to reframe the debate.

"This case is not about the best marriage definition. It is about the fundamental question regarding how our democracy resolves such debates about social policy: Who decides, the people of each state or the federal judiciary?" John Bursch, representing Michigan, wrote in his main brief to the court.

Other arguments by the states and more than five-dozen briefs by their defenders warn the justices of harm that could result "if you remove the man-woman definition and replace it with the genderless any-two-persons definition," said Gene Schaerr, a Washington lawyer.

The push for same-sex marriage comes down to fairness, said Bonauto, who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs. The people who have brought their cases to the Supreme Court are "real people who are deeply committed to each other. Yet they are foreclosed from making that commitment simply because of who they are," she told reporters last week.

Arguments made by Bonauto, other lawyers for same-sex couples and more than six-dozen supporting briefs have strong echoes of the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, in which the Supreme Court struck down state bans on interracial marriage. In that case, the justices were unanimous that those bans violated the constitutional rights of interracial couples.

No one expects unanimity this time. The justices have allowed orders in favor of same-sex couples to take effect even as the issue has made its way through the federal court system, but that was action through inaction.

Only 11 states have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples through the ballot or the legislature. Court rulings are responsible for all the others.

A decision is expected in late June.

More from AOL.com:
Choppers ferry injured in Nepal; new mudslide hits village
Doctor takes 100 pills a day in effort to live to 150
Coffins arrive at Indonesian prison as executions near

Read Full Story

People are Reading