WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will take up California's ban on same-sex marriage, a case that could give the justices the chance to rule on whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.
The justices said Friday they will review a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the state's gay marriage ban, though on narrow grounds. The San Francisco-based appeals court said the state could not take away the same-sex marriage right that had been granted by California's Supreme Court.
The court also will decide whether Congress can deprive legally married gay couples of federal benefits otherwise available to married people. A provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act limits a range of health and pension benefits, as well as favorable tax treatment, to heterosexual couples.
The cases probably will be argued in March, with decisions expected by late June.
Gay marriage is legal, or will be soon, in nine states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington — and the District of Columbia. Federal courts in California have struck down the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but that ruling has not taken effect while the issue is being appealed.
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage earlier this month.
But 31 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. North Carolina was the most recent example in May. In Minnesota earlier this month, voters defeated a proposal to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in that state's constitution.
The biggest potential issue before the justices comes in the dispute over California's Proposition 8, the state constitutional ban on gay marriage that voters adopted in 2008 after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay Californians could marry. The case could allow the justices to decide whether the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection means that the right to marriage cannot be limited to heterosexuals.
State's stance on
The Defense of Marriage Act, the subject of one of the cases, was authored in 1996 by two Oklahoma Republicans who formerly served in Congress. Former Rep. Steve Largent was one of the leading authors of the House version, and former Sen. Don Nickles was the lead author of the Senate bill.
In the California case, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt joined a U.S. Supreme Court brief with 14 other attorneys general arguing that California voters had the right to pass a law to protect traditional marriage. The attorneys general called the court ruling invalidating the law a radical departure “from deeply ingrained American legal traditions and
Oklahoma voters approved a state question in 2004 banning gay marriage and the recognition of gay marriages performed in other states.