The court will examine a key section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The Obama administration announced in 2011 it was abandoning defense of the law, and a string of lower courts has said it is unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the states where they live while offering them to opposite-sex married couples.
This marks the first time the justices will hear arguments relating to same-sex marriage. Because the DOMA case concerns couples who already are married under state law, the case they selected would not require an answer to the broader constitutional question of whether homosexuals must be allowed to marry.
The court also said it would review a lower court’s decision to overturn Proposition 8, in which California voters in 2008 amended the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
That case offers the court a more direct path to deciding whether the fundamental constitutional right to marry may be limited based on sexual orientation. But because of the way the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decided the case, such a finding is not required.
The issue of marriage is traditionally one that individual states control, and nine — including Maryland — plus the District of Columbia either allow same-sex marriages or soon will. The rest do not, and 31 states have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage
The two cases were picked from a batch of petitions that brought the issue to the court. The decision to hear the cases heralds a landmark term for the court on civil rights issues; already it has agreed to decide whether racial preferences may play a role in college admissions and the future of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enacted to protect minorities.
The Proposition 8 case is Hollingsworth v. Perry, and the DOMA case is United States v. Windsor.
Original article on The Washington Post