POLITICS

Supreme Court To Meet Again On Hearing Gay Marriage

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, who opted in October not to take up the issue of state bans on gay marriage, are set to meet behind closed doors on Friday to consider once again whether to hear any cases on the contentious issue.

The court has five cases pending concerning same-sex marriage prohibitions in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Kentucky and Louisiana.

The legal issue is whether the state bans violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. An announcement could be made as soon as Friday after the justices meet as part of their customary private deliberations over which new cases to hear.

As recently as October, the court decided not to intervene in the gay marriage issue when seven separate cases were pending. That decision not to hear the cases had huge legal implications because it meant that gay marriage went ahead in five states and paved the way for it to begin in several others.

Prior to the court's action in October, gay marriage was legal in just 19 of the 50 U.S. states. Now it is legal in 36.

If the court agrees to take one or more of the cases, it would have another chance to rule on when, if ever, gay men and women in the 14 states that now bar them from marrying could get marriage licenses. The cases likely would be argued before the justices in the spring with a ruling due by the end of June.

A Nov. 6 decision by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold marriage restrictions in four states may increase pressure on the Supreme Court to take up the matter.

It was the first of the nation's regional federal appeals courts to uphold gay marriage prohibitions after a wave of other rulings declaring the bans unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court is divided on gay rights.

In 2013, it struck down in a 5-4 ruling a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex couples. That and every other gay rights decision in recent years has been written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often casts the deciding vote in close cases. It is not known how he would rule on gay marriage but he does have a history of backing gay rights.

Separately on Friday, a federal appeals court in New Orleans is due to hear oral arguments over gay marriage bans in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • The same-sex couples who legally challenged Florida's marriage ban were present in court as a stay was lifted Monday. From le
    Walter Michot-Pool/The Miami Herald/Getty Images
    The same-sex couples who legally challenged Florida's marriage ban were present in court as a stay was lifted Monday. From left to right, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, Jeff Delmay and Todd Delmay, David Price, Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz react as Florida joined 36 other states in allowing same-sex couples to marry. “I’m lifting the stay," announced Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel.
  • Pareto and Arguello leave the courthouse to apply for a marriage license after the stay was lifted for Miami-Dade hours ahead
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pareto and Arguello leave the courthouse to apply for a marriage license after the stay was lifted for Miami-Dade hours ahead of a midnight launch for same-sex marriage statewide.
  • Pareto gets a hug from her mother, Marlene, as she waits to apply for a marriage license.
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pareto gets a hug from her mother, Marlene, as she waits to apply for a marriage license.
  • Arguello places a ring on Pareto's finger as her mother, Berta Arguello, looks on holding flowers. The pair, who were wed by
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Arguello places a ring on Pareto's finger as her mother, Berta Arguello, looks on holding flowers. The pair, who were wed by Judge Zabel, have been partners for 15 years. "It's been a long time coming," Pareto told the Associated Press. "Finally Florida recognizes us as a couple. It's just, I don't know, sweet justice."
  • Pareto and Arguello share a kiss.
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Pareto and Arguello share a kiss.
  • Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz kiss after obtaining their marriage license from the Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Monday.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    Don Johnston and Jorge Diaz kiss after obtaining their marriage license from the Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Monday.
  • Vanessa Alenier holds up her number after waiting in line to apply for a marriage license with her partner, Malanie Alenier.
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Vanessa Alenier holds up her number after waiting in line to apply for a marriage license with her partner, Malanie Alenier. The couple were among the six plaintiffs that sued Miami-Dade County for the right to marry.
  • Jeff and Todd Delmay leave the courthouse after Judge Zabel lifted the stay. She then married the couple, who had already leg
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Jeff and Todd Delmay leave the courthouse after Judge Zabel lifted the stay. She then married the couple, who had already legally changed their names, are raising a son together and have been wearing wedding rings on their right hands for 12 years. “We have been reserving [our left ring fingers] for when it became official,” Todd Delmay told the Miami Herald. “This means so much to us.”
  • The Delmays hold hands as they wait to receive their marriage license from the clerk of courts.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    The Delmays hold hands as they wait to receive their marriage license from the clerk of courts.
  • Monday's lifting of the stay “<a href="http://miami.cbslocal.com/2015/01/05/miami-dade-may-issue-same-sex-marriage-licenses-e
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Monday's lifting of the stay “lets families like ours be families,” Todd Delmay told CBSMiami.
  • Couples including Juan Talavera, 46 (left, in blue), and his partner of 15 years, Jeff Ronci, 53, waited Monday to obtain mar
    Lynne Sladky/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Couples including Juan Talavera, 46 (left, in blue), and his partner of 15 years, Jeff Ronci, 53, waited Monday to obtain marriage licenses.
  • It was soon mission accomplished for Ronci and Talavera. At least two other counties in Florida will hold extended office hou
    Joe Raedle via Getty Images
    It was soon mission accomplished for Ronci and Talavera. At least two other counties in Florida will hold extended office hours to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
  • Deborah Shure and Aymarah Robles also applied for a marriage license in Miami.
    Wilfredo Lee/ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Deborah Shure and Aymarah Robles also applied for a marriage license in Miami.
  • Done!
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    Done!