The Washington Times - March 26, 2013, 11:48AM

Updated at 1:55 p.m.

The first openly gay politician ever elected to the Senate said Tuesday the Supreme Court has a chance to “reflect the progress” that had been made on rights for same-sex couples and decide “whether gay American citizens can continue to be discriminated against simply because of who they love.”

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat elected in November, said she plans to attend court arguments on Wednesday, when the high court will consider a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bans gay married couples from obtaining federal benefits.

On Tuesday, the court heard oral arguments from attorneys representing those who are supporting and challenging Proposition 8, a ballot initiative in California that banned same-sex marriage.

“Our country has made great progress since I first entered public service and was elected to political office in 1986,” Ms. Baldwin said Tuesday afternoon in a statement. “Over time, we have all seen with clarity that our nation is moving forward on issues of equal opportunity and fairness with a growing number of Americans supporting marriage equality. People’s views are changing because they believe that gay family members, friends, and neighbors deserve to be treated like everyone else in the United States.”

Fellow Democratic senators Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, and Mark Warner, of Virginia, and Mark Begich, of Alaska, went public with their support for same-sex marriage this week.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio, made headlines earlier this month by announcing his support for same-sex marriage, a decision that was influenced by his son coming out as gay.

— Tom Howell Jr.

Updated 12:07 p.m.:

Attorney Ted Olson, who argued before the Supreme Court arguments in favor of overturning California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, said even a high court decision basically to take a pass on the case would be a win for his side.

Emerging from more than an hour of oral arguments Tuesday morning, Mr. Olson said a decision that fell short of a sweeping declaration that gay marriage was a constitutionally protected right could be a victory for gay marriage advocates. Several justices questioned in the oral arguments whether the private parties defending the voter-passed initiative had legal “standing” to bring the case.

“That would be a victory, yes,” said Mr. Olson, who noted the practical effect of a ruling based on standing would mean that Proposition 8 was struck down in California.

David Boies, who joined Mr. Olson on the legal team for gay marriage, said both sides “should not read too much into the questions” the justices asked during the oral arguments, calling that a “really risky proposition” when trying to predict how the Supreme Court will rule.

Attorney Charles Cooper, who argued before the justices that Proposition 8 was constitutional, declined to categorize the oral arguments.

Both sides said the court’s questioning suggesting the justices are considering a range of options on the scope of any final decision. The court is expected to rule in June.

— David R. Sands

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Updated at 11:20 a.m.:

They don’t count as legal opinions, but signs supporting and opposing gay marriage were much in evidence in the competing demonstrations outside the Supreme Court on a sunny but cool Tuesday morning.

Banners and signs were held high as speakers addressed both sides, even as the high court was beginning a morning of oral arguments on California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.

Based on a simple unscientific count, signs in support of gay marriage greatly outnumbered those in opposition, just as pro-gay marriage crowds clearly outnumbered those opposing same-sex marriage.

Among the pro-gay marriage signs: “Protect our children from hate;” “We all deserve freedom to marry;” “It’s time for marriage equality;” and “Did we vote on your marriage?”

Marching down the street in front of the Supreme Court building, traditional marriage backers waved their own signs, including “Honk for traditional marriage;” “Stop judicial tyranny;” and “Kids do best with a Mom and a Dad” — a sign that was popular in both an English and Spanish-language version.

— David R. Sands