LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — The Supreme Court will take up California’s ban on same-sex marriage, a case that could give the justices the chance to rule on whether gay Americans have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals.

The justices said Friday they will review a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, though on narrow grounds. The San Francisco-based appeals court said the state could not take away the same-sex marriage right that had been granted by California’s Supreme Court.

The court also will decide whether Congress can deprive legally married gay couples of federal benefits otherwise available to married people. A provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act limits a range of health and pension benefits, as well as favorable tax treatment, to heterosexual couples.

Legal analyst Royal Oakes told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO arguments will likely be heard in March, which could mean a decision by late June.

“They don’t want to have to issue a lot of separate decisions and worry about whether their opinions are contradictory,” said Oakes. “They’re probably going to cull from all these cases the single, unifying theme that they want to extract as to whether or not there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.”

Federal courts in California have struck down the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but that ruling has not taken effect while the issue is being appealed.

Gay marriage is legal, or will be soon, in nine states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington — and the District of Columbia.

Andrew Pugno, who represents the sponsors of Proposition 8, said this case boils down to the will of the people and state’s rights.

“Policy decisions like this, something involving an institution so fundamental to society, that’s something properly left to the democratic process,” Pugno said.

But Professor Mignon Moore of UCLA – who has been in a long-term relationship in New York where same-sex marriage is legal – denied the case has anything to with the will of California voters.

“People can’t decide which groups should have rights, and we’ve never had that,” Moore said. “Think of voting or slavery.”

Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved gay marriage earlier this month.

But 31 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. North Carolina was the most recent example in May. In Minnesota earlier this month, voters defeated a proposal to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in that state’s constitution.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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