US court hears gay marriage arguments for 4 states
Cincinnati - A US appeals court is set to hear arguments on Wednesday in six gay marriage fights from four states, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee in the biggest such session on the high-profile national issue so far.
Three judges of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals will consider arguments that put states' rights and traditional, conservative values against what plaintiffs' attorneys say is a fundamental right to marry under the US Constitution.
Large demonstrations are expected outside the courthouse by both opponents and supporters.
Michigan's and Kentucky's cases relate to rulings striking down each state's gay marriage bans. Ohio's case deals with the state's recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, while Tennessee's is narrowly focused on the rights of three same-sex couples.
Gay marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
Since the US Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defence of Marriage Act last year, gay marriage advocates have won more than 20 victories in federal courts. No decision has gone the other way in that time.
Constitutional law professors and court observers say the 6th Circuit could deliver the first victory to gay marriage opponents. If it decides against gay marriage, that would create a divide among federal appeals courts and put pressure on the US Supreme Court to settle the issue for good in its 2015 session.
Two federal appeals courts already have ruled in favour of gay marriage, one in Colorado in June and another in Virginia last week.
On Tuesday, Utah appealed the ruling from the Colorado-based court, asking the US Supreme Court to take up the case and uphold the state's ban.
The 6th Circuit is the first of three federal appeals courts to hear arguments from multiple states in August and September.
The 7th Circuit in Chicago has similar arguments set for 26 August for bans in Wisconsin and Indiana. The 9th Circuit in San Francisco is set to take up bans in Idaho and Nevada on 8 September.
Hundreds of gay marriage supporters rallied on the eve of the court arguments.
The reverend Mary Moore said she has performed many services of "holy union" for same-sex couples, but they are not recognised by the state of Ohio.
"It's not fair that all of the marriages I perform aren't allowed to be on an equal basis", she said.
Mason Gersh, aged 19, of Kentucky, said he hoped to be inside the courthouse to hear the arguments. "Equality for all is a civil right, and we all need to fight for that", said Gersh, who is gay.