The Supreme Court could end up avoiding a major national ruling on whether America's gays have a right to marry.
During arguments on California's ban on same-sex marriage, several justices raised doubts that the case should even be before them. And Justice Anthony Kennedy -- possibly the deciding vote in the case -- suggested that the court could dismiss it with no ruling at all. That would almost certainly allow gay marriages to resume in California, but it would have no impact elsewhere.
Kennedy said he was afraid the court would go into "uncharted waters" if it embraced arguments from gay marriage supporters.
But a lawyer representing two same-sex couples said the court had ventured into the unknown in 1967 when it struck down bans on interracial marriage.
As justices considered California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, supporters of those marriages were outside the court, carrying pictures of gay weddings and families, and holding signs that read, "Marriage is a constitutional right."
Opponents marched down a roadway in front of the court, with signs reading, "Every child deserves a mom and dad" and "vote for holy matrimony."
Two women from Virginia had matching signs with their California marriage license on one side and a picture of their wedding ceremony on the other. They had married in California during the 142 days when it was legal in the state. One of the women said the court decision "can change our lives tremendously."
During Tuesday's arguments, there was no apparent majority on the court for any particular outcome. And there were doubts expressed about the arguments from all sides -- the supporters and opponents of California's ban on gay marriage, and the Obama administration, which is in favor of same-sex marriage rights.
Several members of the court were troubled by the administration's main contention that when states offer same-sex couples civil union rights, they must also allow marriage. There was also resistance to the argument of gay marriage opponents that the court should uphold the ban as a valid expression of the people's will.