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Washington: US Supreme Court examines marriage equality

The Supreme Court appears divided over whether the US Constitution guarantees marriage equality. Pivotal Justice Anthony Kennedy seems to have inched cautiously toward legalizing gay nuptials nationwide.

The Supreme Court has heard arguments on

marriage equality

. As the nine justices convened Tuesday, activists on both sides rallied in front of the court building.

Tuesday's arguments centered on laws banning same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee - four of the 13 states that

currently prohibit it

. Thirty-seven states and the federal District of Columbia, where the court is located, protect marriage equality.

The four liberal-leaning justices seemed to favor gay marriage, but the court's right wing, including Chief Justice John Roberts, appeared inclined to back the right of states to restrict the definition of marriage. The justices should deliver the ruling - their most anticipated of the year - by the end of June.

Outside the courthouse, some supporters of same-sex marriage drew parallels between older laws banning mixed-race marriage and the issue debated Tuesday.

'A wrong premise'

Justice Anthony Kennedy often casts the deciding vote in split courts and wrote the last three decisions on LGBT rights, including the landmark 2013 ruling that

voided a discriminatory federal law

. During the first part of Tuesday's arguments, focusing on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to wed, Kennedy challenged one of the key assertions made by states that ban gay marriage: that same-sex couples do not have the same bonds with their children as straight couples.

"It's just a wrong premise," Kennedy told John Bursch, the lawyer arguing in favor of state bans. The justice told Bursch that his argument "assumes that same-sex couples cannot have the more noble purpose" shown by hetero-identified partners when marrying.

The Obama administration argued on the side of same-sex marriage advocates. The US president has said he hopes that the court might issue a ruling preventing states from banning gay marriage.

"In a world where gay and lesbians live openly as our neighbors, it's simply untenable that they should be denied or that they should wait," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued on the administration's behalf. "They deserve the equal protection of the law and they deserve it now. The issue is not whether or not there should be same-sex marriage, but who should decide."

mkg/gsw (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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