However the U.S. Supreme Court is going to rule after its landmark hearings on same-sex marriage this week, the issue is likely to divide Americans and states for many years to come.
In Virginia, which in 2006 voted for a constitutional amendment underscoring the state's ban of same-sex marriage, activists on both sides of the argument hesitate to predict the outcome of the rulings that are expected for June, but they agree that it is unlikely to change the legal status quo in the commonwealth.
"Handicapping what the Supreme Court is going to do is a little like betting on your NCAA bracket; it's a risky proposition," said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, a group that opposes legal marriages of same-sex couples.
"The justices clearly showed skepticism about same-sex marriage and asked very challenging questions to both sides, and they have multiple options in both cases, so it is really impossible to predict what they'll do," Cobb said.
Kevin Clay, spokesman for the gay-rights group Equality Virginia, said the justices have several means to deal with the issues before them. "It's hard to tell how this will turn out; we just have to sit back and watch over the next months," Clay said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell also weighed in on his monthly call-in show on WRVA Thursday, underscoring that in 2006, Virginians backed the constitutional amendment on marriage.
"So for our part, unless the Supreme Court were to completely overrule a Virginia constitutional provision, the matter has been settled in our state," he said.
McDonnell said he voted for the amendment and has not supported civil unions because he believes the protections are already covered by existing contract law.
In oral arguments Tuesday and Wednesday on two cases involving gay couples' rights, the justices left open multiple options for their rulings. However, they hinted that there was no prospect of imposing a 50-state solution at this stage.
In one case, the court could strike down a section of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies legally married same-sex couples a host of federal benefits available to straight married couples.
For same-sex couples in Virginia who got married out of state, this means that their marriages would be recognized under federal law, but not in the commonwealth.
In the other case, concerning California's Proposition 8 ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, legal analysts say the justices could leave in place a lower court ruling striking down the ban.
It is hard to speculate how a ruling on California's ban would affect Virginia law, but legal observers believe the court will at most narrow it, leaving the same-sex-marriage ban in the commonwealth intact.
With nine states allowing same-sex marriages and other states banning them via statutes or constitutional amendments, that means a longer spell with a patchwork marriage-rights map -- and no early end to bruising state-by-state battles in the courts, in the legislatures and at the ballot box.
But both sides agree that the publicity created by the Supreme Court hearings is unprecedented, and they hope it will help advance their respective causes.
"The Supreme Court cases have put the national spotlight on this issue in a new way and are an important opportunity for Americans to discuss the question 'what is marriage?'" Cobb said.
"The track record shows that when Americans hear those arguments, by and large they draw the conclusion that marriage is and should remain the union of a man and a woman," she said.
Clay countered that the attention that has been brought to marriage equality has created a positive momentum for the movement. "There is more energy now that moves us forward, because Americans are ready for this," he said.
Guy Kinman, 95, a Richmond gay-rights activist, said that for the first time, the country is having an open conversation about same-sex marriage and what it means to be gay.
"We are breaking a long-standing taboo," Kinman said. "Our biggest gain from this discussion is that people come to realize that it is normal for 3 to 4 percent of the population to be attracted to someone of the same sex and that all we want is the same rights that heterosexual couples enjoy," he said.
Most Popular Stories
- Frightfully Fun Films Return for Halloween
- Would Soccer Be Richer Without Small Clubs?
- Pfizer Approves $11 Billion Buyback Plan
- Cloud Lifts Microsoft's Quarterly Results
- Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux Set the Date
- IS Funded by Black Market Oil Sales, Racketeering
- Hollywood Eager to Grasp Hispanic Market
- Weekly Jobless Claims Rise but Remain Low
- Stocks Continue Strong After Opening Surge
- Teresa Giudice Must Serve Time in Prison