Supreme Court To Take Up Same-Sex Marriage

same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage remains a divisive political issue. (Image credit: Dreamstime.)

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday (Dec. 7) that it will take up the issue of same-sex marriage this term, with rulings expected in June.

The announcement comes after a period of uncertainty during which the judges met about their upcoming docket but declined to make any announcements about their plans to consider the gay marriage issue. There were 10 pending cases regarding same-sex marriage before the Court, eight of which focused on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents the recognition of same-sex marriage on a federal level.

The Court will consider a portion of DOMA that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states that allow the unions, according to the Los Angeles Times. These provisions have been struck down by judges in California, New York and New England, the Times reported, leaving the Supreme Court to pass a final decision.

The Court will also consider Proposition 8, a voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008. Months prior, the California Supreme Court had granted gay couples the right to marry in the state. A federal judge in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, arguing that it was unconstitutional because it took away a right already granted by the state court. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]

According to news reports, the Court is likely to hear oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases in March, with a judgment to come in June.

The Court's consideration comes at a time when 53 percent of Americans favor legalized same-sex marriage, according to a Gallup poll released Dec. 5. Of those who oppose the legalization, 47 percent cite religious beliefs as their reason. Another 20 percent responded that "marriage should be between a man and a woman," with the rest citing traditional beliefs, the existence of civil unions and the "laws of nature."

Supporters of legalization most often cited equal rights (32 percent) and personal choice (32 percent), while another 14 percent said it wasn't the government's business to decide who could marry.

Younger people were more likely than older Americans to support same-sex marriage, with 73 percent of 18- to 19-year-olds in favor compared with only 39 percent of 65-year-olds. About half of 50- to 64-year-olds support legalization.

The total 53 percent number in support of same-sex marriage ties with a previous high set in May 2011. In 1996, when Gallup first began asking the question, only 27 percent of Americans thought same-sex marriages should be legally valid.

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Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.