Supreme Court hearing reveals divide among justices in historic gay marriage case

Posted at 6:35 PM, Apr 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-28 18:35:59-04

WASHINGTON -- After months of waiting, arguments played out for and against gay marriage Tuesday in front of the United State Supreme Court.

While a final decision could still be months away, the arguments revealing just how sharply divided the justices remain on the issue.

At hand, the court grappled with two questions: Should a state be required to allow a same-sex couple to marry and should a state be required to recognize a same-sex marriage legally performed elsewhere.

The court's often pivotal vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, posed tough questions on both sides of the issue during an unprecedented two and a half hours or oral arguments.

The only interruption inside came when a man stood up during oral arguments and began screaming "homosexuality is an abomination." He was removed from the courtroom and reports indicated he could still be heard screaming for awhile after removal.

Several questions posed during Tuesday's arguments centered around the definition of marriage and whether the decision to allow or ban gay marriage should be left to voters.

"It's very difficult for the court to say, we know better," Justice Kennedy remarked during arguments.

Kennedy also said marriage had been defined for "millennia" as being between a man and a woman, adding any call to change that would redefine the institution. He also pressed attorney John Bursch, hired by the Michigan AG's office to defend the states and bans on gay marriage in the case, why granting gay couples the right to marry would challenge or harm traditional marriage.

Roberts, one the court's conservative judges who's been the deciding vote in previous cases, questioned both sides of the issue but tended to lean more conservative during the course of Tuesday's arguments.

A poignant remark from Roberts came when he asked if it was appropriate for the court to potentially redefine the institution of marriage.

“My question is, you’re not seeking to join the institution, you’re seeking to change what the institution is," he said. "The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship."

Read the entire transcript of Tuesday's oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges here.

Obergefell v. Hodges arguments Question 1

Obergefell v. Hodges arguments Question 2

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal on the Court, argued that people should be allowed to decide on same-sex marriage simply by deciding who they want to marry, flipping the previous argument made that any changes should be through a voter initiative.

Proteters and supporters clash over issue

Protesters and supporters clash over issue

Outside the courtroom, hundreds of people in support and opposition of same-sex marriage gathered with banners, signs and flags. During some points, individuals on opposite ends of teh debate sparred with one another.

“This is amazing. It’s a point in life I never thought I’d get to see," said Joe Gawronski, from Michigan. "But I’m in my mid-50s so this is kind of like a miracle for me.”

Others, like Adam Hyatt held up signs that read "a child needs a mother and a father."

A group of same-sex marriage supporters unroll 25 foot pride flag just beyond steps of the United State Supreme Court on Tuesday

A group of same-sex marriage supporters unroll 25 foot pride flag just beyond steps of the United State Supreme Court on Tuesday

“I believe the Constitution protects what God has created: our life, our freedom," Hyatt said, "Gender was not created by government. God created male and female and the government can only protect what God has created.”

Several East Grand Rapids High students were also present Tuesday after competing in the national "We the People" championship over the weekend. The students told FOX 17 they were excited to witness the historic event while also offering their own perspectives on the issue.

“I think it’s incredible, but I’m not sure if this where this should be handled, in courts with un-elected judges," said Oliver Vandenberg. "But sometimes when you have civil rights legislation you have to have it separate from the people.”

Following the arguments, Michigan plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse addressed the media and their supporters with the National Marriage Campaign.

“I can’t even put into words how honored we are to be here and representing Michigan for the United States," said Jayne Rowse. "It was great, it’s a beautiful day and marriage equality in the end is what I’m hoping will win.”

Frank Colasonti Jr. and his husband Jim Ryder, who one of the 300 same-sex couples who married in Michigan during the brief legal window in 2014, were also inside the courtroom Tuesday. They said they remain optimistic after hearing the justices' questions.

“It really was a proud moment for us, participating in it and seeing everybody else who’s participating," Colasonti said. "Knowing that millions of viewers will be seeing this across the nation and we hope they feel the same way about our government and how they work.”

The cases before the court come from Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, four of the 14 remaining states that do not allow same-sex marriage.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the Michigan couple who are plaintiffs in the case talk to reporters following Tuesday's oral arguments.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the Michigan couple who are plaintiffs in the case talk to reporters following Tuesday's oral arguments.

Michigan’s case began in 2012 when April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple from Metro Detroit, sued to challenge the state’s ban on gay marriage after they found they were not legally able to adopt each other’s children.

Following Tuesday's hearing, DeBoer and Rowse spoke with reporters and a small group of supporters outside the courthouse. DeBoer said they remain optimistic a decision will ultimately be in their favor.

“To know that we’re walking down those steps and we’ve already made history and could possibly be making more history in June," DeBoer said.

Grand Rapids attorney John Bursch, hired by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, argued on behalf of upholding the state’s bansaying social policy like this should be left to the democratic process.

"It's not the job of the federal courts - nine people - to step in and decide for the country what something as important as marriage is," he told reporters following Tuesday's arguments.

Mary Bonauto, with Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), argued on behalf of the DeBoer-Rowse family.

"The court absolutely - it's their job to make sure that every individual's liberty and equality is protected regardless of state laws," she said.

A decision from the Supreme Court isn't likely expected until late June.