Supreme Court will Tackle Prop 8 and DOMA

WASHIGNTON, D.C. (CNN) -

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court will tackle the contentious issue of same-sex marriage and hear two constitutional challenges to state and federal laws dealing with the recognition of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed.

In a one-page order on Friday, the court took on what will be one of the most important issues in its history, California’s proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.. The decision to review the matter came just weeks after voters approved same-sex marriage in three states.

Oral arguments will likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.

The appeals to be heard involve the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their own state, and a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved referendum that took away the right of same sex-marriage that previously had been approved by the state’s courts.

The political, social, and legal stakes of this long-simmering debate will once again put the high court at the center of national attention, a contentious encore to its summer ruling upholding the massive health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama.

There are about approximately 120,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

Earlier this month, voters in Maryland, Washington, and Maine approved same-sex marriage, adding to the six states and the District of Columbia that already had done so. Minnesota voters also rejected an effort to ban such unions through a constitutional amendment.

Many other states, including New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii, have legalized domestic partnerships and civil unions for such couples — a step designed in most cases to provide the same rights of marriage under state law.

But other states have passed laws or state constitutional amendments banning such marriages. California’s Prop 8 is the only such referendum that revoked the right after lawmakers and the state courts previously allowed it.

The cases accepted Friday are Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144), dealing with Proposition 8; and U.S. v. Windsor (12-307) on the DOMA issue.

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