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Supreme Court to Take on DOMA And Prop 8

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After weeks of delay, the Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear two cases that could transform the state of marriage equality: A lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act, and the last appeal by supporters of California's Proposition 8.

Marriage equality advocates hoped that the court would choose only to hear one of the suits brought against the DOMA. While the Prop 8 case constitutes the last desperate efforts of anti-marriage activists to prevent the Golden State from legalizing same-sex marriage, the DOMA lawsuits have the chance to require that all states and the federal government recognize same-sex marriages performed in marriage-equality states.

DOMA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage and allows states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states. This poses a particular problem for married gay couples paying federal taxes, and it's this issue the Supreme Court has chosen to grapple with. The particular case involves a New York resident, Edie Windsor. If Windsor had been married to a man, her spouse could have transferred all assets to her under a marital deduction with no tax penalty; instead, the federal government has demanded $350,000 in estate taxes.

Opponents of DOMA include New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and President Obama, who ordered the Department of Justice to cease defending it in court last year; in turn, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has taken up the law’s defense.

The Prop 8 presents a more nuanced challenge. The highly-publicized trial (made into a play by “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black) saw the law upheld by the California Supreme Court, struck down in a broad ruling by a District Court judge, and then struck down on narrower grounds by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Supreme Court had decided not to hear the case, marriage equality would be legalized in California on the grounds that the state could not rescind a previously enacted right to marriage — an outcome viewed as a success by the anti-Prop 8 coalition, who filed a brief this summer requesting that the court refuse to deliberate.

At the time, they believed that a Supreme Court decision was unlikely to be written in a way that would legalize marriage equality nationwide. But in a conference call with reporters Friday night, anti-Prop 8 lawyers David Boies and Tim Olsen said they were hopeful that the high court would issue a more sweeping proclamation.

A decision will come in spring.

Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

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