The Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996, says federal benefits and considerations for married couples apply only to heterosexual unions. The Obama administration is enforcing the 1996 act but is one of the main challengers in court.
The part of the law under attack reads: "In determining the meaning of any act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
It has been declared unconstitutional in some jurisdictions but upheld in others.
California's Proposition 8 was adopted by voters in 2008, banning same-sex marriage in a bid to nullify court decisions granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.
An earlier, similar measure, Proposition 22, was overturned by a ruling from the California Supreme Court. For Prop 8, opponents went to federal court where a judge declared it unconstitutional. A three-judge appeals court panel in San Francisco agreed 2-1.
The petition to the Supreme Court filed by ProtectMarriage -- its sponsor is a state non-profit, California Renewal -- argues the appeals court misinterpreted Supreme Court precedent. It also argues the state has a compelling interest in limiting marriage to a woman and a man.
CBS said the arguments likely would be heard next March.