US awaits key verdicts in fight for gay rights
America's divisive debate over gay marriage reaches the supreme court today, when the nine justices will hear arguments that could lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriages across the US.
Legions of supporters and opponents of gay marriage will march in Washington to put their side of an argument that has been described as the modern equivalent of the 1960s' Civil Rights movement.
In a case that has far-reaching implications in the 41 US states that currently do not allow gay marriage, the court is being asked to decide whether California's so-called Proposition 8 law banning gay marriage is constitutional.
The Conference of Catholic Bishops in America asked the faithful to fast in order to bear witness "to the truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman", warning that the identity of the traditional nuclear family was at stake.
However, in a second case to be heard tomorrow, the justices will hear arguments as to whether the traditional version of marriage is constitutional.
The pro-gay marriage group United for Marriage said it had organised more than 150 events in cities across America this week aimed at building on what polling data suggests is fast-rising public support for marriage equality for gay couples.
Over the past decade, US public attitudes to gay marriage have been turned upside down, with 58pc now in favour and 36pc against, according the latest 'Washington Post'-ABC News poll. The changing attitudes have also forced a re-ordering in American politics, with President Barack Obama coming out in favour of gay marriage before last year's general election, having sat on the fence in 2008.
Many grassroots Republicans and socially conservative southern states remain opposed to gay marriage, but this month Rob Portman from Ohio became the first Republican senator to come out in support after discovering that his son, Will, was gay.
Legal experts said the Supreme Court, which will not hand down its ruling until the end of June, had a range of options, from striking down or upholding the California law, to a narrow ruling that would cover only those eight states that legalised gay marriage.
Gay marriage proponents argue that under the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment, states should not be able to give gay couples all the material benefits of marriage but then deny them the social title and status that goes with it for heterosexuals. (© Daily Telegraph, London)