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Supreme Court to hear gay marriage cases

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court will tackle the contentious issue of same-sex marriage and hear two constitutional challenges to state and federal laws dealing with the recognition of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed.

In a one-page order on Friday, the court took on what will be one of the most important issues in its history. The decision to review the matter came just weeks after voters approved same-sex marriage in three states.

Oral arguments will likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.

The appeals to be heard involve the federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their own state, and a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved referendum that took away the right of same sex-marriage that previously had been approved by the state’s courts.

The political, social, and legal stakes of this long-simmering debate will once again put the high court at the center of national attention, a contentious encore to its summer ruling upholding the massive health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama.

There are about approximately 120,000 legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

Earlier this month, voters in Maryland, Washington, and Maine approved same-sex marriage, adding to the six states and the District of Columbia that already had done so. Minnesota voters also rejected an effort to ban such unions through a constitutional amendment.

Many other states, including New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii, have legalized domestic partnerships and civil unions for such couples — a step designed in most cases to provide the same rights of marriage under state law.

But other states have passed laws or state constitutional amendments banning such marriages. California’s Prop 8 is the only such referendum that revoked the right after lawmakers and the state courts previously allowed it.

The cases accepted Friday are Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144), dealing with Proposition 8; and U.S. v. Windsor (12-307) on the DOMA issue.

Check back with WTVR.com and watch CBS 6 News at 5 p.m. for the latest on this developing story.