US Supreme Court Schedules 2013 Showdown for Same-Sex Marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday that will hear both a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a suit challenging California’s statewide ban on same-sex marriage.

The Hill is reporting that the historic rulings could put to rest one of the most contentious issues of our time – whether or not there is a constitutional right to marry.

In the case involving DOMA, the court will review a provision which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits. They will decide whether or not Congress can deprive legally married same-sex couples of federal benefits that are otherwise available to married people.

By taking on the challenge to California’s Proposition 8, the Court will review a ruling made by a federal appeals court that essentially said that because same-sex couples were given the right to marry in California before citizens voted to ban the unions, the state could not later take this right away. Although the larger constitutional issue of whether or not the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants the right to same-sex marriage will almost certainly be raised during arguments in this case, the Justices may not choose to rule on this broader issue.

The 14th Amendment defines citizenship and protects a person’s civil and political rights from being denied by any state. It states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The bottom line is that if the Justices choose to declare gay marriage to be a constitutional right, it would overturn every state constitutional provision banning same-sex marriage.

However, if the Court strikes down DOMA, which many legal experts believe will happen, but leaves Proposition 8 in place, this would not recognize a right to same-sex marriage and would leave the issue to the states.

The cases are expected to be argued in March with decisions expected by late June.

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