The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the legal challenge to Proposition 8 on March 26 and then consider the constitutionality of the federal government's ban on same-sex marriage benefits the following day.
The Supreme Court set the argument schedule Monday in the unfolding legal drama over same-sex marriage rights. The justices would then decide the two cases by the end of the current term in June.
The high court agreed to review a federal appeals court's decision last year invalidating Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional because it stripped away a previous right for same-sex couples to marry in California, and Proposition 8 backers are asking the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling.
The Supreme Court is also reviewing a federal appeals court ruling finding the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a New York case.
In both cases, the Supreme Court has the ability to avoid the central gay marriage issues. The Supreme Court is seeking legal arguments on whether Proposition 8 backers have a right to defend the California law when the governor and attorney general have refused to do so. Similarly, the Supreme Court has asked for briefing on whether House Republicans can defend DOMA even though the Obama administration maintains the law is unconstitutional.
Underscoring the importance of the two cases, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over two days instead of the customary one day, as it did last year when it considered challenges to the federal health care reforms
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.