US Supreme Court Delays Decision on Calif. Prop 8, DOMA

The U.S. Supreme Court was expected on Friday to take action on same-sex marriage cases involving California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, but the justices apparently need more time to consider the claim that gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry.

The Prop. 8 case and five other cases related to the 1996 federal law, DOMA, were on the agenda for the justices' weekly private conference on Friday, but the court maintained silence over those cases after the meeting and did not give any explanation.

The sponsors of the November 2008 California measure, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, are seeking Supreme Court review after it was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2010 as well as by a federal appeals court in February.

Sponsors of the initiative want a state's authority to ban same-sex marriage to be affirmed, and have described the February ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as a "judicial death sentence for traditional marriage laws." The appeals court struck the measure on narrow grounds, saying because gay couples in the state had been given the right to marry, a federal initiative could not later take it away.

DOMA, which also defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and denies numerous spousal benefits to same-sex couples who married under the laws of their states, has also been declared unconstitutional by two federal appeals courts and several U.S. District Court judges.

The court's press office told reporters on Friday that further orders indicating grants or denials of review will only be released on Monday morning. Monday's list normally carries cases in which review has been denied.

Justices may also delay their decision on the appeals until a later date.

If the Supreme Court rejects the review appeal for Proposition 8, same-sex marriage will become legal in California within days.

Cases are expected to be argued in March, and a decision is likely by the end of June.

The Supreme Court justices' meeting on Friday came three weeks after proponents of traditional marriage were dealt a blow on Election Day in November when four U.S. states voted by referendum to legalize same-sex marriage. Previously, the seven states that have permitted gay marriage all reached the decision through the court or legislative process.

President Barack Obama has expressed his support for gay marriage and has said that his administration will not defend DOMA. However, traditional marriage advocates hope that the Supreme Court will be able to make its own decision on the law initially enacted by Congress.

As many as 31 states have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage. North Carolina was the most recent to do so about six months ago.

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