Gay Marriage: Will The Supreme Court Finally Weigh In?

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The constitutionality of gay marriage remains up in the air...but not for long.

Could same sex couples finally have an answer on the question of whether gay marriage is constitutional? The courts and the nation have remained split on the issue, effectively leaving the issue of marriage legality for same-sex couples up in the air — until now.

The Supreme Court is currently mulling over which action to take on several pending appeals that address the issue of gay marriage. The Court's decision on whether to hear any of the 10 cases presently before it could come as early as Friday, the last scheduled meeting prior to the Court's holiday recess.

 

The Supreme Court Justices meet weekly to decide which cases to hear and add to the calendar term. There are nine justices, and four votes are needed to add a case to their agenda and schedule oral arguments. If the court decides to hear any of these cases, it could potentially lead to a historic ruling which legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide. 

Currently pending in front of the Court are a variety of cases which all essentially ask the court to address the question of whether or not gay marriage is legal.  Specifically, some cases challenge Section 3 of the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), which defines marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife," and defines spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is husband and wife."

Section 3 of DOMA effectively denies same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits that other married couples are entitled to, even in states where same-sex marriage is legal. For example, DOMA prevents same-sex married couples from filing join federal tax returns, collecting Social Security survivor benefits and including their spouse on medical and health insurance benefits. DOMA has already been challenged by same-sex couples in several states and has been struck down by two U.S. Appeals Courts.

The Supreme Court may also decide on Friday whether to hear an appeal challenging California's Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative which banned gay marriage. This past February, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Prop 8 in a narrow ruling only affecting California. The 9th Circuit held that a state could not take away the right to same-sex marriage after previously allowing it. Since this ruling by the 9th Circuit, gay marriage ceremonies have been put on hold in California.

It's unknown whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the appeal challenging Prop 8, as the Court could wait until they've first ruled on the constitutionality of DOMA. But if the court decides to deny the appeal and not hear the case, it could clear the way for gay marriage ceremonies to resume in California. 

To date, nine states and Washington D.C. have allowed (or will soon allow) gay marriage. Three of these states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — voted to legalize gay marriage in the November elections. Still, a majority of states, 31 out of 50, have passed constitutional amendments or measures that directly or indirectly ban gay marriage.

Should the Supreme Court decide to hear any of the cases addressing the issue of gay marriage, it could issue a landmark decision that determines the future of same-sex marriage in this country. 

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