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Supreme Court to Hear “Defense of Marriage Act” Arguments

SCOTUS Voting on Prop 8

A crowd gathers outside of the Supreme Court as they prepare to decide on Prop 8.
Courtesy: CNN

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN)-

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. The federal law means federal tax, Social Security, pension, and bankruptcy benefits, and family medical leave protections do not apply to gay and lesbian couples.

Wednesday’s session comes a day after the court heard arguments over California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage for that state as being between only a man and a woman. The overriding question in that case is whether the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage.

Here’s the latest on Wednesday’s Supreme Court session on the Defense of Marriage Act:

[Updated at 9:15 a.m. ET]

Less than an hour to go before oral arguments start, but same-sex marriage is gaining steam on social media. As of 9 a.m. #DOMA and #SCOTUS were among the top five U.S. topics trending on Twitter — not bad for #humpday.

[Updated at 8:34 a.m. ET]

Today’s drill is similar to yesterday’s — arguments to start a little after 10 a.m. ET, and no cameras. But lawyers arguing before the court will get one hour and 50 minutes. Hey, that’s almost an hour more than what Proposition 8 got.

In addition to Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s Joe Johns and Bill Mears will be inside the courthouse to bring us the latest.

[Updated at 8:25 a.m. ET]

To understand the arguments around DOMA, get to know Edith Windsor — the woman at the heart of the case. “Edie,” as she’s well known, spent 42 years of her life with Thea Clara Spyer.

But even after they married in 2007 in Toronto, four decades into their courtship, the two women were not “like most couples” in the eyes of the state of New York, where they lived, nor in the eyes of the U.S. government, which under the Defense of Marriage Act mandates that a spouse, as legally defined, must be a person of the opposite sex.

In 2009, a month after Spyer died, Windsor was slapped with a massive bill for inheritance taxes — $363,053 more than was warranted, she later claimed in court — because Spyer was, in legal terms, just a friend. Windsor would ultimately argue in court that her relationship with Spyer should not be considered any different than a heterosexual couple when it came to rights, taxes and other issues.

In October, Windsor, now 83, got an answer in the form of a ruling opinion from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court found, in her favor, that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and thus she shouldn’t have had to pay an inheritance tax after her partner’s death. This follows a similar ruling, in May, from another federal appeals court in Boston.

The Obama administration isn’t challenging the ruling — the president has said he supports same-sex marriage. Lawyers representing House Republicans are taking up the case, since both Windsor and the administration are taking the same legal position.

[Updated at 7:58 a.m. ET]

Just a few minutes until the doors open to the Supreme Court.

[Updated at 7:22 a.m. ET]

While yesterday dealt with big questions (Who should be allowed to marry? What is the impact of same-sex marriage on children?), today’s arguments will look at a relatively clearer issue — discrimination, according to CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

The arguments over DOMA will focus on the nine states plus the District of Columbia, which allow same-sex marriage. Will they treat same-sex couple the same as straight couples?

“It’s a case about money, benefits and who can be denied those benefits,” Toobin said.

[Posted at 7:06 a.m ET.]

We’re gearing up this morning for round two of oral arguments at the Supreme Court over same-sex marriage.

Yesterday, the justices heard both sides of California’s Proposition 8. The overriding legal question in that case is whether the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage as that state has done. Some 80 minutes of arguments left no clear picture of how things might go — but here’s what we learned from it.

Today’s arguments deal with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which like Proposition 8, defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. The federal law means federal tax, Social Security, pension, and bankruptcy benefits, and family medical leave protections do not apply to gay and lesbian couples.

Arguments are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. ET. We’ll have all the latest developments here.

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