WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped a dispute over gay marriage yesterday, rejecting a challenge by conservative groups to the status of Massachusetts as the only state that sanctions same-sex marriages.

Justices had been asked to overturn a year-old decision by the Massachusetts high court that legalized gay marriage. They declined, without comment.

In the past year, at least 3,000 gay Massachusetts couples have wed, although voters may have a chance next year to change the state constitution to permit civil union benefits to same-sex couples, but not the institution of marriage.

Critics of the November 2003 ruling by the highest court in Massachusetts argue that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government in each state. They lost at the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

Their attorney, Mathew Staver, said in a Supreme Court filing that the Constitution should “protect the citizens of Massachusetts from their own state supreme court’s usurpation of power.”

Federal courts, he said, should defend people’s right “to live in a republican form of government free from tyranny, whether that comes at the barrel of a gun or by the decree of a court.”

Merita Hopkins, a city attorney in Boston, had told justices in court papers that the people who filed the suit have not shown they suffered an injury and could not bring a challenge to the Supreme Court. “Deeply felt interest in the outcome of a case does not constitute an actual injury,” she said.

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