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US Supreme Court Hears Gay Marriage Debate

Shelly Bailes, 74, left, and her wife, Ellen Pontac, 73, of Davis, Calif., kiss in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, where justices were hearing arguments in same-sex marriage cases, April 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
US Supreme Court Hears Gay Marriage Debate
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The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to marry. Depending on how the court votes, it could lead to legalization of same-sex marriage across the U.S. Or the court could leave things the way they are now. Each state has the right to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage.

Gays and lesbians can now legally marry in at least 36 states and Washington, D.C. Justice Anthony Kennedy is one of the nine justices on the nation’s highest court. He wrote the court’s three previous gay rights decisions. All eyes and ears were on Justice Kennedy to see if he would show which way he was leaning on the issue. But he did not tip his hand.

Two years ago in another case, called United States v. Windsor, the country’s highest court threw out the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It said the law was unconstitutional and no longer valid. That meant that the federal government now recognizes same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits such as tax and inheritance laws.

Justice Kennedy wrote that opinion.

Tuesday, he appeared to share the concern of the conservative justices when he said that marriage has been defined for a long time as between one man and one woman.

During the arguments, the justices indicated where they might stand on the issue of whether states can continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, or whether the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry.

Four states, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, brought the cases before the court. A federal appeals court in Ohio upheld the states’ bans against same-sex marriage last November. Lawyers for the four states argued in a paper given to the Supreme Court, that “This case is not about the best marriage definition." Lawyer John Bursch wrote, “Who decides, the people of each state” or the federal courts?

Lawyers for same-sex marriage argue that it comes down to fairness. They also point to the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state bans on interracial marriage. The justices said then that those bans violated the constitutional rights of interracial couples.

In general, the conservative justices showed their support for the states. And the court’s liberal justices indicated their support of gays and lesbians to marry across America.

Legal scholars expect the case to end up in a close 5-4 ruling. Some believe the Supreme Court already has shown how it might decide.

“I think the writing is on the wall,” said Nan Hunter, a Georgetown University law professor. “I think almost everyone believes that it is just a matter of time before gay couples can marry anywhere in the United States.”

The court is expected to decide later this summer how it will rule on the case.

I'm Anne Ball.

Anne Ball wrote this story for Learning English with material from VOA and The Associated Press. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

constitutional adj. allowed by a country's constitution

legalization noun. allow something by law

tip his hand idiom. to show what one thinks

valid adj. acceptable according to the law

indicate - v. to show something

upheld v. (past) support or defend a law

interracial adj. involving people of two or more races