Historic gay rights debate hits Supreme Court

Flags and signs from supporters of same-sex marriage rights.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - It’s a subject that’s being called the civil rights issue of our time. With hundreds of supporters and protestors of same-sex marriage rights standing on the steps, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from four plaintiffs Tuesday morning.

“Our constitution says ‘I am an equal citizen and I deserve the same rights as everyone else,’” Jim Obergefell said. “So that’s what I concentrate on. Not the craziness, or the noise, or the people who disagree. I concentrate on our constitution and its promises.”

Obergefell is the most high-profile plaintiff in the same-sex marriage debate. He wants his legal Maryland marriage to be recognized on his husband’s Ohio death certificate.

“I’ve been able to talk about my husband every day, and that keeps him alive for me, and that’s been, really, an unexpected gift of this whole process,” he said.

The Supreme Court is looking into cases from four states – Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan. Though there was much protesting outside of the courtroom, inside the Supreme Court, a protestor had to be physically removed when he started screaming during the oral arguments. Nevertheless, the justices kept on going.

They are considering two main questions: do states have to perform same-sex marriages? And do states have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states? The justices acknowledged the quick shift in public opinion about same-sex marriage, but they also questioned the very definition of ‘marriage.’

"This definition has been with us for millennia and it's very difficult for the Court to say, 'Oh well, we know better,’” Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

The arguments led lawyers and justices to talk about everything from adoption, to divorce, to religion, and even the thoughts of ancient philosophers.

The justices are expected to take about two months to review the arguments and then make a final decision about same-sex marriage in late June.

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