The Court will take up California's Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriages in the state, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal law from recognizing same-sex marriages legal under state law.
The hearings will likely take place near the end of March, with decisions read in June, SCOTUSBlog reported.
What's at stake?
The Court's reading of the Defense of Marriage Act will likely determine if denying federal benefits to same-sex couples married under state law is constitutional.
DOMA, the 1996 law that officially defines marriage as one man and one woman under federal law, is being represented in Court not by the Obama administration, as would normally happen when a federal law faces challenge, but by a lawyer hired by Congressional Republicans.
DOMA only deals with same-sex couples who are already married under the laws of their states--who are being denied the benefits received by heterosexual couples--and won't expand or contract the rights of gay marriage in general. A federal appeals court in Massachusetts found DOMA unconstitutional earlier this year.
The more difficult case, and the decision more likely to have major ramifications for gay couples not just in California but across the country, is Proposition 8.
Proposition 8 was a voter-passed measure in 2008, outlawing same-sex marriage in the state after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage earlier that year. In 2010, a California federal appeals court struck down the proposition.
The Supreme Court can avoid the civil rights and social issues by merely deciding whether Proposition 8 discriminates because some couples were able to get married in the few months between the first court decision and the passage of the proposition.
If, however, the justices dive more deeply into the issue, they could determine the constitutionality of denying homosexual couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. Such a decision could set a national rule, overturning all state constitutional bans and laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage is legal (or will be soon) in nine states and the District of Columbia. Thirty-one states have amended their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage.
Public opinion of same-sex marriage has undergone a major overhaul. As recently as 2009, opposition to same-sex marriage was at 57 percent, with 40 percent in favor of allowing it. According to Gallup's most recent data, 53 percent of Americans are now in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, while 46 percent oppose it.
Arguments in gay marriage cases around Mar 25-27, decision around June 27.— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) December 7, 2012