Supreme Court Takes up Same-Sex Marriage for First Time

The Supreme Court stepped into the debate concerning gay marriage for the first time on Friday.

The U.S. High Court agreed to review two challenges to federal and state laws that claims marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Photo: Ronny Richert/Flickr

The Supreme Court revealed its intentions to review laws that deny married same-sex couples. It also took up a challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage, the so-called Proposition 8, which was approved four years ago.

Same-sex marriage is quite a controversial issue in the U.S. as 31 of the 50 states refused to accept gay unions, while Washington, D.C., and nine states have legalized it, three of them on Election Day last month.

However, even in the states that allow gay marriages, such couples don’t receive any federal benefits as Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, signed in 1996, only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.

Gays and lesbians married under state laws fill special suits to confirm that they agree not to get any benefits as Social Security survivor payments and the right to file joint federal tax returns.

They claim that the provision, known as Section 3, violates equal protection provisions of the American Constitution.

In a private meeting on Friday the justicies took into consideration requests to review seven cases which refer to gay marriages.

Five of them are included into the federal marriage law, one to California’s gay marriage ban and another to an Arizona law against domestic partner benefits.

As Reuters reports, the high court is expected to take up at least one of the challenges to the federal marriage law, given that two federal appeals courts had found the law unconstitutional.

Less clear was what the court would do with the California gay marriage ban.

“Taking both a states’ rights case like Prop 8, and a case involving Congress’s authority in the DOMA … suggests that the court is ready to take on the entire issue, not just piecemeal it,” said Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the individuals defending California’s gay marriage ban.

Civil rights activists, focused on efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, said that the court’s decision was an important breakthrough in their bid for equal rights.

“It is time for the Supreme Court to strike down this unconstitutional statute once and for all,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents Windsor.

Meanwhile, those who stand against same-sex marriages still hope that the justices will reverse lower-court rulings and uphold what they regard as ‘U.S. traditional social policy’.

“We believe the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn this exercise of judicial activism and stop federal judges from legislating from the bench on the definition of marriage,” said John Eastman of the National Organization for Marriage.

If the supreme court invalidates the law, states might still save the right to legalize or deny gay marriages on their own terms.

California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris welcomed the court’s decision to consider the case.

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider marriage equality takes our nation one step closer to realizing the American ideal of equal protection under the law for all people,” Harris said in a statement.

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