After delaying the decision to review cases related to same-sex marriage last week, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide on Friday how to proceed with California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Prop. 8 is a 2008 voter referendum in California that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The decision to exclude same-sex partners from the definition was later ruled unconstitutional. Interested parties are hoping the Supreme Court will bring a resolution to the issue once and for all.
The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, has lost the support of current President Barack Obama and the White House administration, and gay rights supporters are looking to the Court to overrule it.
Trends have suggested that Americans are becoming more open to same-sex marriage, with voters on a Dec. 5 Quinnipiac University Poll split on the issue – although women remained significantly more in favor of gay marriage than men, with a 52-43 percent difference.
Nine U.S. states, including the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, after voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington all voted to change the traditional definition of marriage in state-wide referendums on Nov. 6.
"That these issues exist at all is because public attitudes about homosexuality have changed dramatically," University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone told NBC News. "Attitudes have evolved about the meaning of equality over time, just as they did with separate but equal (the invalidated legal doctrine that justified racial segregation) and with women."
Yahoo News reported that there are as many as 10 cases dealing with same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court could consider, but Prop. 8 and DOMA are the biggest of them all and the ones most likely to take the court's attention.
Although both DOMA and Prop. 8 can go a long way in deciding the future of marriage in America, one key aspect in which they differ is that Prop 8. positions that marriage is the fundamental right of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, which goes a step further than DOMA. As such, if jusutices are to agree with that position, they could theoretically force all states to change their definition of marriage despite currently held bans.
If DOMA is struck down, however, married same-sex couples can start receiving the same federal benefits that straight couples receive.