Supreme Court could avoid ruling on gay marriage ban

This artist rendering shows attorney Charles J. Cooper, right, addressing the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, as the court heard arguments on California's ban on same-sex marriage. Justices, from left are, Sonia Sotomayor,  Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)
This artist rendering shows attorney Charles J. Cooper, right, addressing the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, as the court heard arguments on California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Justices, from left are, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

By Richard Wolf and Kevin Johnson | USA Today

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court began two days of historic oral arguments Tuesday on a civil rights issue with sweeping moral, religious and social overtones: Can members of the same sex get married?

At times, it seemed the court regretted taking the case.

As thousands of supporters and opponents of gay marriage marched and demonstrated outside, a select few hundred – some of whom waited up to five days for a seat – sat hushed as the nine justices peppered questions at attorneys for both sides.

The discussion often focused on technical issues that could thwart both sides’ desire for a clear result. Several justices, led by Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, questioned whether the case even belonged before them.

The case focuses on California’s four-year-old same-sex marriage ban, known as Proposition 8. It will be followed Wednesday by a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies financial and other benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

After nearly 90 minutes of debate — a full half-hour more than scheduled — several things appeared clear:

Continued: 

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