Gay Marriage Gets Its Day in Court

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8.

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The Supreme Court began hearing arguments on the issue of same-sex marriage Tuesday, setting the stage for potentially historic decisions that could affect the status of marriage equality across the country. Rulings in the two cases aren't expected until June, but the issue will likely remain in the limelight until the nation's highest court has had its say.

The case of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage in the state, was heard Tuesday. Opponents of the ban, which California voters approved in 2008 but was found to be unconstitutional in 2012 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, say it is unnecessarily discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Lawyer David Boies argued against Prop 8 and afterward said it was a positive development that the proponents of the ban weren't arguing against the idea of gay marriage, but against the ability for the Supreme Court to rule on the issue at a federal level:

The most important thing that happened in there is that there was no attempt to defend the ban on gay and lesbian marriage … There was no indication of any harm. All they said in there was that this important constitutional right ought to be decided at the state level as opposed to the federal government.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on gay marriage.]

Lesbian and gay couples can legally marry in nine states and the District of Columbia, and supporters of Proposition 8 said that the Supreme Court should send the gay marriage debate back to the states where marriage equality proponents could lobby voters for new laws. National Organization for Marriage Chairman John Eastman said it is clearly a states' rights issue:

If public opinion goes that way and they are able to persuade fellow citizens to do what Maine and Maryland did the last election, so be it … If they lose that fight as they have in the 35 other states that have gone that direction, it's because this is not a constitutional issue but a basic policy issue about the purposes of marriage and the risk for that institution if we radically re-define it.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the Supreme Court Overturn the Defense of Marriage Act?]

Public opinion on gay marriage has been rapidly changing as of late, with polls now showing the majority of Americans support marriage equality. Many politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have also announced that their views have evolved. 

Some say allowing states to decide the issue leads to conflicting and confusing rules for same-sex couples who move to states where their marriage isn't legally recognized, and the Supreme Court must rule in such a way that answers the legal challenge to gay marriage nationally. The federal government, through the Defense of Marriage Act, currently prohibits same-sex marriage from being recognized for federal purposes like tax benefits. Wednesday the court will hear a case challenging the 1996 law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

What do you think? Should states decide gay marriage? Take the poll and comment below.

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