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*-- Supreme Court divided on gay marriage --*

WASHINGTON (UPI) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared deeply divided on the subject of gay marriage as justices debated whether states have the right to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The debate highlighted division along the justices' usual political lines, with Justice Anthony Kennedy seeming to argue in support of both sides.

The court debated two separate arguments -- whether the Constitution prevents gay marriage and whether states should be forced to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Kennedy was concerned about changing the definition of marriage, which he said has been traditionally unchanged for thousands of years.

"This definition has been with us for millennia," he said. "And it's very difficult for the court to say, 'oh, well we know better.'"

But he later argued that gay couples want marriage because they too "have a dignity that can be fulfilled."

Chief Justice John Roberts echoed Kennedy's earlier statement that allowing gay marriage would fundamentally change the definition of marriage.

"If you succeed, that definition will not be operable," he said. "You are not seeking to join the institution. You are seeking to change the institution."

In support of gay marriage, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor argued that allowing same-sex marriage doesn't lessen the value of conventional marriage.

"You are not taking away anything from heterosexual couples" Ginsburg said.

Justices are considering same-sex marriage as part of six cases that have been combined into one. The consolidated case, "Obergefell v. Hodges," centers around 48-year-old Jim Obergefell from Cincinnati, Ohio, and his boyfriend John Arthur.


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