The court announced on Dec. 7 that it will hear cases challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which received overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for all federal policies.
Last year, President Obama instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the law in court.
While the majority of U.S. states continue to acknowledge marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the nation has seen an increasing push to redefine the institution in recent months.
In May, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to voice support for a redefinition of marriage. Citizens in Maryland, Maine and Washington state voted to redefine marriage in November, bringing the total number of states to legalize “gay marriage” to nine, plus the District of Columbia.
The court will now decide the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had been struck down by appeals courts arguing that it violated the Constitution's equal protection clause.
In addition, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment adopted by California voters in 2008 to recognize marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman.
The measure was approved by the people after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of redefining marriage and the state began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
In February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the amendment on narrow legal grounds, arguing that because same-sex couples had already been given a “right” to marry in the state, this right could not later be removed without a legitimate reason.
The issue will now come before the nation’s highest court and could have nationwide implications for the definition of marriage in the United States.
Decisions in both cases are expected in late June.
In a move that could have wide-reaching consequences, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases involving the redefinition of marriage next year.