The public won't find out what they decided for several days -- as early as Monday -- but Friday's meeting is significant enough that both sides in the cultural debate are guessing what will happen. If the court takes up the cases, it could end up being the "Roe v. Wade" of gay marriage.
At issue are two laws: a federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a California constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8.
Technically, only one section of DOMA is before the court -- the section that defines marriage in federal law as being between one man and one woman. But the legal arguments the Obama administration's Justice Department attorneys are using to oppose that section could be used to overturn the entire law, conservative attorneys say. That other section gives states the option of not recognizing gay marriage laws from other states. Courts have been split on DOMA, although the cases before the high court overturned the federal section at issue. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is defending DOMA in court.
California Prop 8 was approved by voters in 2008 and defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that struck it down. If the Supreme Court takes the Prop 8 case, it could do a number of things, including upholding Prop 8 or -- in what would be a nightmare for Christian legal groups and evangelicals -- reversing laws in any state that define marriage as between a man and a woman. The court also could choose not to take the Prop 8 case, a decision which would legalize gay marriage in California.
In August the attorneys general of 14 states urged the Supreme Court to consider the DOMA case and to uphold the law, saying that the appeals court decision reversing the law "casts doubt on all traditional definitions of marriage" in the states that don't recognize gay marriage. The attorneys general said they were interested in "protecting their power to define marriage in the traditional manner." They further gave a solid defense of traditional marriage.
"In short, traditional marriage protects civil society by encouraging couples to remain together to rear the children they conceive," the attorneys general wrote in their brief. "It creates the norm that potentially procreative sexual activity should occur in a long-term, cohabitative relationship. It is the institution that provides the greatest likelihood that both biological parents will nurture and raise the children they beget, which is optimal for children and society at large."
It is not known when during the current term the court would hear oral arguments in the cases, although -- if they take the cases -- a decision likely would be handed down in the spring or early summer.
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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