TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Gay rights activists in New Jersey hope the U.S. Supreme Court will establish a constitutional right to gay marriage and end a prohibition in that state.
As 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported, the Supreme Court on Friday agreed to take up the California ban on same-sex unions, as well as a separate New York case about federal benefits for legally married gay couples.
1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reports
"We don't have marriage equality in New Jersey yet," said Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality. "If the Supreme Court rules all the way, as in marriage equality has to be legal in the United States of America, we have marriage equality in New Jersey."
WCBS 880's Jim Smith reports
But a Supreme Court ruling in against Proposition 8 in California would also overturn constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in 31 states.
"I'm absolutely stunned – stunned – that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rule on marriage equality," Goldstein said.
The high court could also rule that Proposition 8, which was struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California, to stand. Such a ruling would leave marriage rights up to the states.
Goldstein told WCBS 880's Jim Smith he believes there is a 50-50 chance the Supreme Court will rule in favor of gay marriage rights.
The order from the court extends a dizzying pace of change regarding gay marriage that includes rapid shifts in public opinion, President Barack Obama's endorsement in May and votes in Maine, Maryland and Washington in November to allow gay couples to marry, CBS San Francisco reported. Same-sex couples in Washington began picking up marriage licenses on Thursday.
Gay marriage is legal, or soon will be, in nine states – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont are the others – and the District of Columbia.
The other issue the high court will take on involves a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, known by its acronym DOMA, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits.
Four federal district courts and two appeals courts struck down the provision. Last year, the Obama administration abandoned its defense of the law, but continues to enforce it. House Republicans are now defending DOMA in the courts.
The justices chose for their review the case of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, who sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.
Windsor, who goes by Edie, married Thea Spyer in 2007 after doctors told them that Spyer would not live much longer. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. Spyer left everything she had to Windsor.
There is no dispute that if Windsor had been married to a man, her estate tax bill would have been zero.
The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan agreed with a district judge that the provision of DOMA deprived Windsor of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law.
The court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in October, ruling that the law violates equal protection. A federal appeals court in Boston earlier this year also found it unconstitutional.
In both cases, the justices have given themselves a technical way out, involving the legal issue of whether the parties have the required legal standing to bring their challenges, which would allow them to duck all the significant issues raised by opponents and supporters of gay marriage, CBS San Francisco reported.
The justices are expected to rule by late June.
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