U.S. Supreme Court Hears Gay Marriage Arguments as Hundreds Gather Outside

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Supreme Court hears gay marriage arguments

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WASHINGTON - All eyes were on the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as it began hearing arguments on two same-sex marriage cases with far-reaching implications for gay civil rights amid a national debate that seems antiquated compared to the progress made in other western nations.

Hundreds of people, both for and against same-sex matrimony, amassed outside the iconic Supreme Court building. Inside, the nine-justice panel posed questions to lawyers that observers quickly parsed for clues to how the judges might be leaning in the gay marriage debate.

"It's a great day to be on the right side of history," Natasha Roit, a California attorney, said outside the courthouse alongside her wife.

"America is way behind other industrialized nations in terms of gay rights. It's about time we turned the page."

While countries like Canada and Australia have recognized same-sex marriage for years, the queries from the American justices suggested some reluctance to move ahead in declaring same-sex marriage a federal right in the United States.

Some of them challenged arguments that California's ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court panel is made up of five Republican appointees and four Democrats, two of whom were appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama in his first term.

"When did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexuals from marriage?" Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the court's most conservative justices, asked Ted Olson, a lawyer seeking to overturn Prop 8.

Olson pointed to the 1967 Supreme Court ruling that overturned state laws outlawing interracial marriage.

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote in June will likely be pivotal given he's a libertarian who's written previous judgments upholding gay rights, said the court was in "uncharted waters" and wondered whether it should be hearing the case at all.

Others suggested the Supreme Court shouldn't move too fast on same-sex marriage.

"You want us to step in and assess the effects of this institution, which is newer than cellphones and/or the Internet?" Justice Samuel Alito asked one of the lawyers.

But two of the liberal justices on the panel questioned one of the key arguments against same-sex marriage -- that the federal government has a societal duty to protect traditional marriage for "responsible procreation."

Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that heterosexual couples older than 55 are permitted to wed. …