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Gay Americans share different, at times surprising, views on marriage

Arguments that could lead to the nationwide legalization of gay marriage mean different things to different constituencies in the LGBT community
What do gay Americans really think about same-sex marriage? 05:46

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments over the fundamental question of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

Should the court rule in favor of marriage equality, it will be a triumphant victory for a movement that's already started at the state level. Already, 36 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. A ruling in favor of gay marriage would mean the remaining 14 states would be obligated to perform same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Same-sex marriage arguments on tap at Supreme Court 00:54
Will the Supreme Court approve same-sex marriage? 04:23

For the plaintiff in the case, Jim Obergefell, the case is about living up to the promises he made to his husband, John Arthur. In 2013, because Arthur was suffering from ALS, the Ohio-based couple flew on a medical jet to Maryland so they could get married. The ceremony was performed on the plane because Arthur was so ill. Obergefell and Arthur quickly sued so that their marriage would be recognized on Arthur's Ohio death certificate. Arthur died just three months later in October 2013.

"I know he's proud, and I know he would thank me for living up to my promises to him," Obergefell told CBS News' Jan Crawford. "For living up to my marriage vows, to fight for him, to love him, to honor him and protect him - and that's all I'm doing."

While the suit is intensely personal for Obergefell, the debate over same-sex marriage means different things for different constituencies in the LGBT community. For some, the fight for gay marriage is about promoting conservative, pro-family ideals. Others, meanwhile, are concerned that the strong focus on marriage equality has come at the expense of a broader campaign for gay civil rights. Here are some of those views:

A fundamentally conservative movement

"Marriage is the cornerstone institution of society, and society needs more marriages, not fewer," Jonathan Rauch, a conservative senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told CBS News. "Same-sex marriage is, when you get down to, it is a fundamentally conservative movement. It's about gay America coming to the country and saying, 'We tried it the other way, we tried it without family, we tried it with a whole lot of partying. And what we really want -- we want family, we want marriage, we want commitment, we want love. That's what conservatives have been telling us for years -- and you know what, they were right."

Rauch made the case arguments about family values are core to what the justices will be considering Tuesday. Indeed, the Supreme Court has in more than a dozen other cases recognized marriage as a fundamental right. Chief Justice John Roberts himself referenced one such case in his 2005 Senate confirmation hearing: Roberts noted that the court "the right to marry" in 1967's Loving v. Virginia ruling, which struck down laws in 16 states banning interracial marriage.

The court has called marriage a right, Rauch said, because of its "foundational importance to society."

"That's been a reason in the past for excluding gay people, when it was thought that same-sex marriage would undermine it," he said. "Now those are among the most powerful arguments being made to the Supreme Court for same-sex marriage."

A First Amendment case

While the Obergefell case does largely focus on the 14th Amendment, one group of gay conservatives is focusing instead on the First Amendment. It's an argument for same-sex marriage designed to appeal to the most conservative Supreme Court justices -- Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

"There are no two justices that have been more vocal about their opposition to curtailments of freedom of speech that exist because of limits on campaign finance contributions," Gregory Angelo, national executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, told CBS News.

The Liberty Education Forum -- the Log Cabin Republicans' nonpartisan sister think tank -- filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, arguing specifically that committed same-sex couples can't make the same campaign finance contributions as a married couple. Consequently, their freedom of speech is limited.

"There is exactly half as much freedom of speech that committed same-sex couples have in relation to their married heterosexual counterparts in those states where bans on marriage equality continue to exist," Angelo explained.

It's not the final victory for gay rights

While marriage equality would mark a significant milestone for the gay rights movement, Emory University Prof. Lynne Huffer worries that the marriage struggle has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room.

"It's not clear to me how same-sex marriage is necessarily going to help people who are struggling on the margins of society because they've lost their job" or are struggling with issues, she told CBS News. "There are a lot of arguments for same-sex marriage that have to do with things like health benefits -- you can get health benefits if you marry your partner... Of course, that's a good argument, but I think it's a limited one."

Marriage isn't an answer for everyone, Huffer said. Focusing so much effort on marriage rights, she argues, "contributes to a process of exclusion and marginalization."

"It produces new divisions and new categories of exclusions," she said. "Now you're going to have the 'good gays' who get married, and you're going to have the 'bad gays,' or the 'deviant gays,' who for whatever reason decide not to get married."

Huffer called for a discussion that puts the formality of marriage aside and considers "the conditions we need in society to support strong and healthy relationships."

Finding a common value in love

For Joe Ward, religious institutions have always stood as a pillar on which to build strong relations.

"I grew up in a Pentecostal faith community, and I think for me I always saw what we did in the church really intersect with the larger community," Ward, associate director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion & Faith program, told CBS News. "There's always just a sense of love, support and just doing good work in the community."

Of course, given the taboo and misunderstanding over issues of sexuality that's often found within the faith community, gays and lesbians are at times excluded from that community. Ward helps build bridges between faith organizations and their LGBT constituencies. Within that framework, same-sex marriage can be perceived as an expression of religious values.

"A common value that really transcends different beliefs is really love and being able to support love and any individuals who seek to be married because they're in love," he said.

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