Same-sex marriage supporters shout slogans in front of the US...

Same-sex marriage supporters shout slogans in front of the US Supreme Court Credit: Same-sex marriage supporters shout slogans in front of the US Supreme Court (Getty)

Supreme Court justices signaled a reluctance Tuesday to rule broadly on the fundamental right to marriage for gays and lesbians, suggesting a potentially anti-climactic outcome in the first of two related cases before the high court.

As sign-waving demonstrators massed outside, the court completed an hour and 20 minutes of oral argument on whether to let stand a California ban on same-sex marriage, without indicating a clear path forward by the end of the session.

It was the first of two days of argument. Wednesday, the court will consider the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples. Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

The narrower DOMA case does not give the court the same opportunity to issue a broad ruling because the case relates only to a federal law that limits the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples for the purposes of federal benefits.

Only the California Proposition 8 case gave the court the option of finding a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. Polls show growing support among Americans for gay marriage. But during the argument, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote, raised concerns about the court entering “uncharted waters” on an issue that divides the states.

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