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US Supreme Court to hear gay marriage arguments next year

Same-sex marriage is legal in nine US states but barred in 30 other states. A Supreme Court ruling next year would have implications across the United States.

Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Press Association Images

THE US SUPREME Court has decided to take up the sensitive issue of gay marriage, hearing challenges to a federal law denying benefits to same-sex couples and California’s ban on such unions.

The highest US court will likely hear arguments in the cases in March 2013, with rulings to come in June. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nine states and the federal capital Washington but barred in 30 other states.

Campaigners on both sides of the debate over marriage equality hailed the court’s decision to take up the issue — although they obviously backed differing views as to what constitutes marriage and family.

As analysts predicted, the court took up one challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman and denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples.

Benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples but denied to gays include inheritance rights, tax breaks, filing of joint income tax returns, and health insurance coverage.

President Barack Obama’s government does not support this view of marriage and would like the law to be overturned, but conservative campaigners are urging the Supreme Court to rule that the act is constitutional.

Elena Kagan involvement

The specific case to be heard involves Edith Windsor, a lesbian legally married in Canada who has been told to pay tax on inheriting the estate of her deceased partner.

“While Thea is no longer alive, I know how proud she would have been to see this day. The truth is, I never expected any less from my country,” Windsor said in a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The Supreme Court will rule whether DOMA violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the fifth amendment of the US constitution.

It will also decide if the Obama administration’s position that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives the Supreme Court of jurisdiction, and whether a complaint by some US lawmakers has legal standing.

Justice Elena Kagan, as Obama’s former solicitor general has recused herself on some of the cases in which she had played a role, but this is one on which she can participate.

Kagan’s participation avoids the potential for a 4-4 split on the nine-member bench.

The other case taken up was brought by supporters of “Prop 8,” a referendum that passed in California in 2008 that defined marriage as being between a “man and a woman” — but which was overturned by a court of appeal.

If the Supreme Court throws out their appeal, California — the country’s most populous state — will in effect become the 10th state to permit gay marriage.

- AFP, 2012

Read: Britain to allow gay marriages in churches

Read: Morgan Freeman narrates new marriage equality ad (VIDEO)

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