Even without a significant ruling, the court appeared headed for a resolution that would mean the resumption of gay and lesbian weddings in California.
On Tuesday, the justices weighed a fundamental issue: Does the US Constitution require that people be allowed to marry whom they choose, regardless of either partner’s gender?
The fact that the question was in front of the Supreme Court at all was startling, given that no state recognized same-sex unions before 2003 when Massachusetts’ high court ruled it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marrying in the state.
However, it was clear from the start of the 80-minute argument in a packed courtroom that the justices, including some liberals who seemed open to gay marriage, had doubts about whether they should even be hearing the challenge to California’s gay marriage ban.
Justice Kennedy suggested the justices could dismiss the case with no ruling at all.
Such an outcome would almost certainly allow gay marriages to resume in California, where the ban has been struck down by lower courts, but might have no impact elsewhere.
The court is not expected to rule before late June.
There was no majority apparent for any particular outcome, and many doubts were expressed by justices about the arguments advanced by lawyers for the opponents of gay marriage in California, by the supporters and by the Obama administration.