The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments from plaintiffs in four states on the question of whether the Constitution requires a state to allow or recognize gay marriage.
The Court announced today that it was granting petitions appealing a circuit court ruling upholding gay marriage bans in four states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan. That decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last year ended a streak of legal victories for gay marriage advocates.
By agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court is set to decide on the constitutionality of gay marriage in not just those four states, but in the country as a whole.
Circuit Court Split
There is no exact science to the way the Supreme Court decides which cases it will hear. Typically, however, the Court is more likely to agree to hear a case when when there is a "circuit split" -- a disagreement among the federal appeals courts about a particular issue. In this case, the 6th Circuit's ruling upholding the four states' gay marriage bans created such a split.
Prior to November's 6th Circuit decision, gay marriage advocates had enjoyed a string of court victories based largely on the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor. The 6th Circuit decision effectively created a split in federal law between the different circuits, providing the motivation for the High Court to take on the issue. With gay marriage now legal or recognized in 36 states and Washington, D.C., the Court's decision will have historic implications.
The Court is allowing two and a half hours for oral arguments, which are likely to be heard in April, according to The New York Times. A ruling is expected before the end of the Court's 2014 term in June.