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The nation's legal debate over same-sex marriage appears to be headed for a resolution. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments and cases challenging gay marriage bans in four states - Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. Same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The High Court's decision will determine whether same-sex couples have the right to marry all over the country. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The justices will consider two basic questions - do same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, and do states with gay marriage bans have to recognize such marriages performed elsewhere? That last question is at the heart of the case brought by three same-sex couples in Tennessee. For example, Thomas Kostura married his husband, Ijpe DeKoe, in New York three years ago, just before DeKoe, an army sergeant, was deployed to Afghanistan. Upon his return, DeKoe was stationed at a military base in Tennessee, a state that does not recognize his marriage. So they filed suit. Kostura says he hopes to have his marriage validated.
THOMAS KOSTURA: That's important, especially for a lot of people growing up - in case they're in households that don't support them - to know that there is a community out there that will support them in who they are and who they love.
GONZALES: Activists on both sides of the argument, for and against same-sex marriage, cheered the news. Opponents of same-sex marriage have been eager for the high court to weigh in. They hope the justices will reverse the domino-like court rulings that have legalized same-sex marriage in states now covering 70 percent of the country. They say lower court rulings have robbed the millions of voters who supported state bans on gay marriage. Jim Campbell, a senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom.
JIM CAMPBELL: The question before the Supreme Court is are the people free to affirm marriage as a union of the man and a woman, or does the Constitution take the issue of marriage away from the people and require all states to redefine marriage?
GONZALES: For supporters of same-sex marriage, the pending court hearing's a culmination of what they say is a civil rights issue that began when Massachusetts first legalized such marriages in 2003. It's a chance for the court to say that gays and lesbians who want to get married have equal protection, as guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Evan Wolfson is founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
EVAN WOLFSON: We now believe on the strength of having won the freedom to marry in about two-thirds of the country. And now, having public support at about 59 percent or more nationwide, we can confidently say to the court, whatever they can feel, America is ready for the freedom to marry, and it's time for the Supreme Court to bring the country all together on the right side of history.
GONZALES: The Supreme Court will depart from its tradition of holding a one-hour hearing, extending the time allotted to two-and-a-half hours in a session scheduled for April. Its decision is expected by June. Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement saying the Obama administration will file friend-of-court briefs supporting the right of same-sex couples to wed nationwide. Richard Gonzales, NPR news.
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