Police stand guard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as the justices hear arguments on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Credit Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images
Now and then, an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court changes the course of the nation's political history — whether the justices like it or not.
It's happening again with gay marriage. This week the court heard oral arguments in two key cases. One could restore legal same-sex marriage in California; the other could end discrimination against gay married couples in the administration of more than 1,000 federal programs.
This artist rendering shows Paul Clement (second from left) with Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. (seated, right), addressing the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Justices pictured are (from left) Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan.
In the wake of the Supreme Court arguments Wednesday on the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriage supporters have reason to be optimistic. Known as DOMA, the law bars federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples, even though those same benefits are automatically given to heterosexual married couples.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case challenging whether the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means the federal government can deny marriage benefits to same sex couples in states that allow gay marriage. Same-sex couples had reason to be optimistic afterward. Assuming the court can overcome procedural concerns, it looked as if a majority of justices was ready to strike down DOMA.
NPR's Nina Totenberg: On what happens if the court declines to decide.
(We most recently updated the top of this post at 1:45 p.m. ET.)
There seem to be four solid votes on the Supreme Court — and possibly a fifth — to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, NPR's Nina Totenberg told us after Wednesday's oral arguments before the nine justices.
But there's a big "if."
As in: There's possibly a 5-vote majority to strike down the law if the court first decides it should even issue an opinion.