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Supreme Court might sidestep major ruling on gay marriage

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court dove into a historic debate on gay rights Tuesday that could soon lead to resumption of same-sex marriage in California, but the justices signaled they may not be ready for a major national ruling on whether America's gays and lesbians have a right to marry.

The court's first major examination of gay rights in 10 years continues Wednesday, when the justices will consider the federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of benefits afforded straight married people.

The issue before the court on Tuesday was more fundamental: Does the Constitution require that people be allowed to marry whom they choose, regardless of either partner's gender? The fact that the question was in front of the Supreme Court at all was startling, given that no state recognized same-sex unions before 2003 and 40 states still don't allow them.

There is no questioning the emotions the issue stirs. Demonstrators on both sides crowded the grounds outside the court, waving signs, sometimes chanting their feelings.

Inside, a skeptical Justice Samuel Alito cautioned against a broad ruling in favor of gay marriage precisely because the issue is so new.


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