WASHINGTON (CN) - After a conference Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up two potentially groundbreaking cases on same-sex marriage.
The court took up fights to revive the ban on gay marriage in California, as enacted by the voter-approved Proposition 8, and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Private attorneys will argue for the laws because both California and the Justice Department have refused to further defend either statute.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck California's gay marriage ban in 2010, and the 9th Circuit affirmed in 2011. Nevertheless, gay marriage remains illegal in California until the Supreme Court finally resolves the case.
In its decision, the 9th Circuit said Prop. 8 "stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the state ... the right to obtain and use the designation 'marriage' to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less."
ProtectMarriage.com, which sponsored Prop. 8 and took up defense of the law on appeal, had argued that legalizing gay marriage harms the state's interest in protecting traditional marriage and procreation.
In granting certiorari Friday, the Supreme Court limited its consideration to whether Sacramento-based conservative group has standing to defend the ban.
Standing is also an issue in the DOMA case that the Supreme Court took up Friday.
Edith Schlain Windsor had challenged the law after she was forced to pay federal estate tax when her wife, Thea Spyer, passed away in 2009. Federal law provides an estate-tax exemption on spousal inheritance, but gay widows do not qualify for the exemption under DOMA.
Windsor and Spyer married each other in Canada and another jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal, and had been together in New York since 1963.
After a federal judge hearing Windsor's case struck down Section 3 of DOMA, the 2nd Circuit affirmed in June, finding that the law tramples on the rights of same-sex couples by denying them equal treatment.
Since the Justice Department said it would no longer defend DOMA in 2011, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the U.S. House of Representatives retained counsel to appeal the decisions favoring Windsor.
In its petition for certiorari, BLAG asked whether Section 3 of DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their state.
The high court said it will also consider whether the group has standing, and whether the court even has jurisdiction considering that the Executive Branch agrees that DOMA is unconstitutional.
Since its passage in 1996, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, while 31 states have passed amendments to ban it. Federal judges nationwide have rejected the law as unconstitutional over the past few years.
The Supreme Court promised resolution of both cases could have major implications for gay marriage nationwide.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office argued against the ban alongside lead attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, noted the cases' significance.
"In taking up the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, the Supreme Court has signaled its readiness to consider the civil rights issue of our time at an opportune moment in history-perhaps not just for Californians, but potentially for all Americans," Herrera said in a statement Friday.
Rulings in both cases are expected in June 2013.
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