Two separate cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this week will bring up matters before the court's nine justices that could impact whether same-sex couples have a right to marry in California and perhaps other states, while also determinining if the federal government will be allowed to provide benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
While same-sex marriage is currently legal in only a handful of U.S. states, new precedents could be set that may affect other states considering whether to allow same-sex marriage.
The decision by the justices will come by the end of June.
The first case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) on Tuesday involves a challenge to the constitutionality of California's gay marriage ban. The second (United States v. Windsor) involves a legal challenge of the constitutionality of parts of a 1996 federal marriage law defining the institution as being between one man and one woman.
The California case to be heard on Wednesday will allow the Supreme Court's nine judges to ask questions about whether same-sex couples have the right to marry.
In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could marry. However shortly thereafter, California voters passed a measure called Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in the state. An appeal to a federal court ruled that the ban was unconstitutional. The case for allowing the ban is being argued by a supporter of the law after California officials refused to defend it, thereby raising the issue of standing.
However a narrow technical ruling could simply decide that one of the parties in the case does not have the ability to challenge the previous rulings due to a lack of standing, a legal term for eligibility.
The second case involves clauses of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and whether married gay couples can receive federal benefits currently given only to heterosexual couples.
In the DOMA case, the law prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. However two courts of appeals have rejected a section of the law which prohibits legally married same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits. Among the 1,100 benefits married couples enjoy are filing joint tax returns and sharing health insurance.
The Obama administration decided last year it would not defend DOMA in court. The law is being defended with support by conservative federal lawmakers.