The Supreme Court agreed Friday to resolve the national debate over same-sex marriage once and for all.
The justices agreed to consider four cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. They will be consolidated and heard together.
That sets up a schedule under which the court likely will hear oral arguments in April and issue a ruling before its current term ends in late June.
The justices’ hands were forced by a split among federal appellate courts, created when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld four states’ marriage bans in November. While gays and lesbians can marry in 36 states, most recently including Florida, the practice is banned in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, along with 10 other states.
The court had sidestepped the issue in October, when it let stand appeals court rulings striking down gay marriage bans in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah. Those rulings and a later appeals court decision affecting Idaho and Nevada drew in neighboring states as well. As a result, more than 70% of Americans live in states where gay marriages are legal, and thousands of couples have tied the knot.
The high court’s long-awaited decision to intervene pleases both sides in the debate. National gay-rights groups have been pressing for a 50-state solution. The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay and lesbian unions, also wanted the court to step in.
The new challenge is destined to become even more of a landmark case than those decided by the court in 2013 — United States v. Windsor, which forced the federal government to recognize gay marriages, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which made California the 13th state to allow them.
Those rulings, while historic, did not resolve the threshold questions in the debate: whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, or whether states have the right to ban the practice.
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SOURCE: USA Today