The U.S. Supreme Court has barely a week left to issue a ruling that could settle the same-sex marriage issue nationwide. But among legal scholars and the public, there's little debate about which way the court will go.
"We don't need nine votes. I can count to five, and that's all we need to win," NYU Law professor Kenji Yoshino said at a forum in Center City this month. Yoshino predicted the four liberal justices and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, considered a swing vote, will declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right and overturn the 13 remaining state bans.
The court could also uphold the bans but force those states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Or it could reject the appeals outright, leaving the status quo in place.
The four cases, reviewed together under the mantle of Obergefell v. Hodges, must be decided before the court adjourns at the end of the month.
In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states where same-sex marriage is already legal, the ruling will have fewer implications. That reality was reflected this month at Philadelphia's Gay Pride parade, where some said the case was low on their radar.
"I'm not really that political because I have my own idea about [things like] marriage," said Em Rowe, 24, who was marching with her girlfriend.
Others at the parade were looking forward to the ruling as the final step in a rapid national evolution on the question of same-sex marriage.
"I'm very happy to see that people are coming around," said Kevin Witherite, 30, of Upper Darby, who got married last month to his partner of nine years. "We're still a little scared, but very welcoming" of a high court decision validating their marriage.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans polled this month by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute said they expect the court to overturn the states' bans, and 55 percent said they support such a decision.
Among organizations opposed to gay marriage, the message has subtly shifted from opposition to defiance. One group of interfaith leaders took out an ad in the Washington Post, promising "we will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman."
Sam Rohrer, a former Pennsylvania state representative and president of the American Pastors Network based out of Elverson, Chester County, said his organization was still praying for a ruling against gay marriage, but preparing for the opposite.
"I personally suspect - and I think it's the sense of most who are watching this - that the court is going to make a political decision rather than a constitutional decision," he said. Depending on how the ruling is written, Rohrer added, "it could raise a new round of threats to churches, businesses, and such" that refuse to cater to same-sex weddings.
Back in April, when the cases were being argued before the Supreme Court, the outcome was portrayed as much less certain. News reports described a "deeply divided" and "reluctant" court, and highlighted some skeptical lines of questioning by Justice Kennedy.
"This definition has been with us for millennia. And it's very difficult for the court to say, 'Oh, well, we know better,' " Kennedy said during arguments.
That Kennedy seemed "torn about what to do," as the New York Times wrote, was surprising to some because he had written the court's previous landmark decisions in favor of gay rights, including the June 2013 Windsor ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and sparked a wave of similar lower-court rulings.
At the time of the Windsor decision, 12 states allowed gays and lesbians to marry. That has since grown to 37 states and the District of Columbia.
Jay Lassiter, 43, of Cherry Hill, a longtime gay activist and political communications consultant, said that for LGBT people his age and older who lived through the AIDS epidemic, discrimination, and past legal defeats, it was hard to be optimistic.
"When I think about it with my rational brain, it's just a question of what the tally will be," Lassiter said. "But my heart and my gut will not accept what I believe in my mind."
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Equality Forum, said it was "hard to fathom" any scenario in which the court would roll back same-sex marriage rights.
"Essentially, they'd have to say we made a mistake in Windsor, and all those lower courts that believed us were mistaken. And all those nice couples and families, they are now unmarried," he said. "I think really the bigger question here is . . . will [the vote] be 5-4 or 6-3?"
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had raised questions about whether the issue might be better viewed as sex discrimination rather than sexual-orientation discrimination, leading to speculation that he might side with the majority.
"Before the oral argument, I would have said absolutely not," Yoshino said. "But when he asked the sex-discrimination argument, I thought he was looking for a narrow way in which to join the majority opinion."
Linda Dickason, a high school government teacher who attended Yoshino's talk at the Constitution Center this month, said the outcome of this case is a foregone conclusion. The only question is how many justices will concur and declare same-sex marriage to be legal.
"Six-to-3, I could see, possibly. It would be kind of a surprise. Seven-to-2 would be a big surprise," Dickason said.
"Would you be surprised if they didn't go along with it?" asked her friend Lynn Liss, of Northeast Philadelphia.
"Oh, yes!" Dickason replied, cocking her head as though she had not considered that possibility. "We've already gone too far."
Inquirer staff writers Erin Edinger-Turoff and Rita Giordano contributed to this article.