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US Supreme Court to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases

The United States Supreme Court will take up two cases involving same-sex marriage, giving the justices the historic opportunity to decide whether or not gay and lesbian Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexual couples.

The Associated Press reports that the Supreme Court will review the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, as unconstitutional.

The court will also hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law passed during the Clinton administration that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. DOMA was also ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.

According to SCOTUS Blog, the court is scheduled to hear arguments in the cases next March and announce its decision in June.

In striking down Prop 8, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state could not revoke the right of same-sex marriage that had previously been granted by the California Supreme Court.

In the case of DOMA, the court will decide if Congress is legally allowed to deny legally married couples federal benefits available to married straight couples. Provisions within DOMA limit health, pension and tax benefits for married same-sex couples. Gay marriage is legal in nine US states, the District of Columbia and in two Native American tribes.

The most significant potential impact of the court’s decision to hear these cases involves the historic opportunity for the justices to decide whether or not LGBT Americans enjoy the same constitutional right to marry as everyone else under the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, which states that no state “shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

A ruling that affirms the marriage rights of LGBT Americans could result in the overturning of every state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. There are a lot of them– some 31 states have enshrined marriage as the union of one man and one woman in their constitutions.

If the justices uphold California’s gay marriage ban, marriage equality would have to be achieved one state at a time. Recently, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state all legalized same-sex marriage. These three states marked the first time that marriage equality has been achieved through the ballot box rather than via legislation.

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