In a major development, the US Supreme Court has agreed to decide on two cases challenging laws that currently bar the recognition of same-sex marriages.
The court said on Friday that it would hear the Hollingsworth v. Perry case challenging California’s Prop. 8 ban on gay marriage and the Windsor challenge to the discriminatory ban on the federal recognition of married same-sex couples, known as the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.
This will be the first time that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the US, will consider the issue of gay marriage.
“I look forward to the day when the federal government will recognise the marriages of all Americans. And I am hoping that will happen during my lifetime,” said Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old woman who is challenging federal taxes she was charged on property she inherited from her wife after 42 years together.
The taxes were incurred because their relationship was not recognised by the government.
Activists have noted that the court’s move is a risky one for the gay and lesbian community in America. Depending on its decisions in these cases, the rulings could either be a decisive victory for same-sex marriage rights or a devastating blow.
America’s largest LGBT rights group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), however, welcomed the news, expressing its confidence that the court will do the right thing.
“Today is a milestone day for equal justice under the law and for millions of loving couples who want to make a lifelong commitment through marriage,” commented HRC President Chad Griffin.
“The passage of Proposition 8 caused heartbreak for so many Americans, but today’s announcement gives hope that we will see a landmark Supreme Court ruling for marriage this term.”
The Proposition 8 law has been previously declared unconstitutional in a Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Now the Supreme Court has an opportunity to do the same and send a resounding message of hope to LGBT young people from coast to coast that they have the same dignity and same opportunities for the future as everyone else,” said Griffin.
“We are also thrilled that the pernicious and ridiculously named Defense of Marriage Act will have its day in court. I am confident that the Justices will find this law patently unconstitutional and the federal government will get out of the business of picking which marriages it likes and which it doesn’t,” he said.
While a handful of states in the US allow same-sex couples to marry, DOMA bars the federal government from recognising such marriages or offering married same-sex couples over 1,100 rights and benefits granted to heterosexual married couples.
The Supreme Court could hear oral arguments as soon as March next year and could rule on the cases in July.