Pivotal Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy did not tip his hand Tuesday as the high court heard historic arguments over the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Kennedy, whose vote could decide the issue, offered reasons for hope and worry to both sides in the rapt courtroom. Same-sex couples now can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and the court is weighing whether gay and lesbian unions should be allowed in all 50 states.
Kennedy seemed to share the concern of the court’s conservative justices when he said marriage has been understood as one man and one woman for “millennia-plus time.” Same-sex marriage has been around in the United States for just over 10 years, and he wondered aloud whether scholars and the public need more time.
“It’s very difficult for the court to say ‘We know better,'” Kennedy told Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing same-sex couples.
Yet Kennedy also pressed attorney John Bursch, representing the states that ban same-sex marriage, to explain how granting gay couples a right to marry would harm traditional marriages. Bursch argued that removing child-rearing as the central rationale for marriage would weaken parents’ commitment to staying married for their children’s sake if their own ties were frayed.