WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court stepped into the gay marriage debate for the first time yesterday by agreeing to review two challenges to federal and state laws that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The high court agreed to review a case against a federal law that denies married same-sex couples the federal benefits heterosexual couples receive. It also unexpectedly took up a challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, which voters narrowly approved in 2008.
Same-sex marriage is a politically charged issue in a country where 31 of the 50 states have passed constitutional amendments banning it, while Washington, D.C., and nine states have legalized it, three of them on Election Day last month.
The tide of public opinion has been shifting in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. In May, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to say he believed same-sex couples should be allowed to get married. A Pew Research Center survey from October found 49 percent of Americans favored allowing gay marriage, with 40 percent opposed.