The U.S. Supreme Court plunged into the controversial issue of same sex marriage Tuesday. The high court heard the first of two cases related to gay marriage that could shift the legal and political landscape.
A huge crowd both for and against gay marriage swarmed outside the Supreme Court, eager to take part in what may turn out to be a pivotal moment in the struggle for equal rights for gay Americans.
At issue is California’s ban on gay marriage, the first of two cases the high court will take up this week that could clarify the rights for same sex couples to marry.
Among those supporting gay marriage is the Reverend Darryl Kistler from California.
“I have a lot of gay and lesbian people in my congregation, family members who are gay and lesbian, a lot of deep friends and good friends who are gay and lesbian, so, since they're not here, I feel like I carry then with my heart and am here to speak for them and to stand up for them," he said.
Recent polls show growing support for gay marriage around the country. At the moment only nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same sex marriages.
But supporters of traditional marriage were also out in force Tuesday, staging a march in front of the Supreme Court and insisting that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Ann Cohrs was among them.
“They can do what they do," she said. "They can live the way they want to live. But they cannot turn society upside down. It is wrong.”
The demonstrators were peaceful and included members of an anti-gay church from Kansas.
“When the Supreme Court does this thing, it’s going to be the last straw," she said. "This nation’s destruction is imminent.”
Inside the high court, questions from some of the nine justices to attorneys on both sides suggested the court might not issue a sweeping decision either way.
Among those challenging California’s ban on gay marriage is Paul Katami, who wants to marry his lover.
“This case has been about securing the right to marry the person that I love and also having the equal access to the most important relationship that I know in life, and that’s marriage," he said.
But opponents of gay marriage like attorney Andrew Pugno hope the Supreme Court does not issue a ruling that could open the way to same sex marriages in all 50 states.
“And so a victory here for us means that this issue returns to the people and their legislatures and their elected representatives where the debate belongs," he said.
In a second case on Wednesday, the high court will consider a 1996 federal law that defines marriage solely as between a man and a woman.
Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.