The United States Supreme Court stepped into the forefront of the gay marriage debate Friday (7 December) by agreeing to review cases involving California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The justices are expected to hear arguments in the cases by next April and could deliver a decision by June 2013.
The justices will consider whether Proposition 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The ballot initiative banning gay marriage in California was passed by voters in the state in November 2008.
The lawsuit against the law was filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) on behalf of two California couples: Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo and Sandy Belzer Stier and Kris Perry.
'We've come too far to give up now,' said Chad Griffin, a co-founder of AFER and currently president of the Human Rights Campaign. 'The plaintiff couples have won their case twice before – in a federal district court in California and again in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. I've been amazed by their courage since we first began planning this case back in 2009.'
The California couples will once again be represented in court by the unlikely legal team of Ted Olson and David Boies who had faced off against each other before the Supreme Court in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case which resulted in George W. Bush becoming president of the US.
'We felt all along that this case was a perfect vehicle to decide the fundamental right of all Americans to the right to marry,' Olson said during a conference call with the media on Friday. 'Every single argument that could be made by the supporters of discrimination … were made ... and were demolished ... in this case.'
Olson added: 'It will be an education for the American people – we are very confident' about the outcome.
If the high court had denied review of the Proposition 8 case, the February 2012 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that struck it down would have been made permanent and put an end four years of marriage inequality in California.
As for DOMA, federal appeals courts in New York and Boston had ruled that the law is unconstitutional - rulings appealed to the Supreme Court by the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives.
The justices have agreed to hear the New York case which was filed by Edith Windsor who sued because she was required to pay a $350,000 federal estate tax bill. The government does not recognize her marriage to her late wife Thea Spyer.
The Republicans have spent nearly $1.5 million defending DOMA since President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department last year to no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA.
DOMA prevents the US government from recognizing same-sex marriages even in states where such marriages are legal so couples cannot file joint federal tax returns or receive survivor benefits if one spouse dies. It was passed by both houses of Congress by wide margins in 1996 and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.
A request for Supreme Court review is only granted upon an affirmative vote of four justices and comes a month after voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington approved same-sex marriage in those states. There are now nine US states that allow the marriages in addition to the District of Columbia.