Supreme Court Looks Ahead to Gay Marriage Cases; Churches Brace for Outcome

The Supreme Court reconvenes on Monday for the start of the New Year, and justices are preparing to tackle important same-sex marriage cases that will have far-reaching consequences for the nation.

Two of the cases that the Court is planning to review during March include Hollingsworth v. Perry, which will examine whether gay and lesbian Americans have a fundamental right to marriage, while Windsor v. United States will examine the federal law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, ABC News reported.

Other important issues the Supreme Court has on its agenda include affirmative action, voting rights and government secrecy. It terms of same-sex marriage, however, two laws are on the line that might determine the legality of gay marriage throughout the entire country.

The laws in question concern California's Proposition 8, the 2008 voter referendum that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Referred to as "Prop 8," the bill caused massive debates in California and around the country, and the referendum was later ruled unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will now look at Hollingsworth v. Perry, a 2009 case in which Kristin Perry and Sandra Steir, a lesbian couple, were denied a marriage license due to Prop. 8.

The case was originally called Perry v. Brown, after Attorney General Jerry Brown, and later Perry v. Schwarzenegger, after the then-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. After both Brown and Schwarzenegger declined to defend Prop 8, the defense was picked up by Dennis Hollingsworth, who runs and supports the traditional definition of marriage.

The other major same-sex marriage case concerns Windsor v. United States, which involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. The Act prevents married same-sex couples from seeking the same federal marriage benefits as traditional couples, but the current White House administration has said that it will not be defending the bill. President Barack Obama also declared last year that he now supports same-sex marriage.

The case refers to the 2007 marriage of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who wed in Toronto, Canada after 40 years of partnership. After Spyer passed away in 2009, Windsor was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal taxes for the New York estate in which they lived, something which she could have avoided had the federal court recognized their marriage.

Currently, nine U.S. states, including the District of Columbia, recognize same-sex marriage, with Illinois hoping to become the 10th state this week when its State Senate reconvenes to decide on the legality of same-sex marriage. Although states are free to decide their own laws regarding same-sex couples, the Supreme Court has the power to change the federal definition, which could have far-reaching consequences.

On Jan. 1, the campaign group "Speak Up," run by Alliance Defending Freedom, posted a letter to America's pastors in anticipation of the Supreme Court reconvening, urging them to pray, stay informed and be prepared for "oppression and censorship of religious freedom," if any of the cases go against traditional marriage supporters.

"Now is not the time to be alarmist. The Church's voice must be heard as our country wrestles with this issue. We must pray for the justices who will decide these cases and for the lawyers who will argue the cause of righteousness. And we must be prepared for any outcome," ADF warns.

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