WASHINGTON — Excerpts from arguments before the Supreme Court on Tuesday about whether states must allow same-sex couples to marry and whether states must recognize gay marriages performed in other states:
Chief Justice John Roberts, on the institution of marriage:
"You're not seeking to join the institution, you're seeking to change what the institution is. The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite-sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same-sex relationship."
Justice Anthony Kennedy:
"The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia, plus time. ... This definition (of marriage) has been with us for millennia. And it's very difficult for the court to say 'Oh well, we know better.'"
Roberts, to the proponents of gay marriage:
"If you prevail here, there will be no more debate. I mean, closing of debate can close minds, and it will have a consequence on how this new institution is accepted. People feel very differently about something if they have a chance to vote on it than if it's imposed on them by the courts."
Mary Bonauto, representing same-sex couples:
"In terms of the question of who decides, it's not about the court versus the states. It's about the individual making the choice to marry and with whom to marry, or the government."
Justice Samuel Alito, to supporters of gay marriage:
"Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?"
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the federal government:
"Gay and lesbian people are equal. They deserve equal protection of the laws, and they deserve it now."
"Same-sex couples say, of course, we understand the nobility and the sacredness of the marriage. We know we can't procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled."
John Bursch, representing states that ban same-sex marriage:
"If this court ensconces in the Constitution a new definition of marriage and it reduces the rate that opposite-sex couples stay together, bound to their children, because of that different understanding, even a 1 percent change ... is many, many children."
Justice Elena Kagan:
"It's hard to see how permitting same-sex marriage discourages people from being bonded with their biological children."
"If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?"
Roberts, on the question of forcing states that ban same-sex marriage to recognize those unions formed in other states:
"It'd simply be a matter of time until they would in effect be recognizing that within the state, because we live in a very mobile society and people move all the time. In other words, one state would basically set the policy for the entire nation."
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, representing same-sex couples:
"These petitioners have built their lives around their marriages, including bringing children into their families, just as opposite-sex couples have done. But the non-recognition laws undermine the stability of these families, though the states purport to support such stability."
Joseph Whalen, associate solicitor general for Tennessee:
"Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky and other states with a traditional definition of marriage have done nothing here but stand pat. They have maintained the status quo. And yet other states have made the decision, and it certainly is their right and prerogative to do so, to expand the definition, to redefine the definition, and then to suggest that other states that have done nothing but stand pat now must recognize those marriages imposes a substantial burden on the state's ability to self-govern."